Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Free Range: Liam and Raven v. Jackson/Ramanan/Thompson Trio

An interesting concept this one. Free Range organiser Sam Bailey used to be a music teacher at the school Liam and Raven (half of local psych-prog band Syd Arthur attended in Canterbury, also Simon Langton where Zoo For You emerged from — has taught piano to members of Syd Arthur, Boot Lagoon, Arlet, even played keyboards for a while with local Afrobeat band Mr. Lovebucket, before handing the job over to one of his pupils. [I did an interview with him for Canterbury Soundwaves episode 23 about all of this.] He came along to the woodland event in June and heard Liam and Raven do their acoustic thing for the first time in a while, came up with this idea: a Free Range evening where they play a song, then a group of free improvisers "respond" to it, they play another song followed by another "response", etc.

In the end, it didn't quite work like that. After a bit of a discussion something similar was arranged, though. First, we got Sam doing a few minutes of free piano improv. There was a very pleasant surprise when he suddenly went into an interpretation of Liam's "Honest Land" (which he'd learned via Youtube without telling anyone), mutating it in interesting new ways. L&R then played a couple of songs, beautiful renditions of "Black Wave" (B-side of the last Syd Arthur single) and "Dorothy" (A-side of the new one), Raven on vioin. The Jackson/Ramanan/Thompson trio (clarinet/trumpet/guitar) then played a free improv piece, which in some sense couldn't avoid being a response to what they'd just heard, although it wasn't evident in any describable way. It started off like a swarm of insects buzzing around, almost annoyingly, but gradually intensified and morphed into a flock of irridescent, squawking flock of tropical birds. A Magic Band-like intensity for a few moments. L&R then played another couple of songs with Rave on mandolin — familiar songs, but I don't know the names. Liam's shelved his solo album project for a little while, but we're assured it will eventually surface. The trio again responded. At one point Roland R was playing his fist in a trumpet-like way — there's a tinge of comedy and theatre which helps to redeem what could otherwise seem like an impenetrable intellectual exercise (I was thinking about eavesdropping on other peoples' conversations — however much they're enjoying the conversation, there's no guarantee that it'll make sense or be enjoyable). There's a fine line between pushing the boundary of what an instrument can do, sonically, and sounding like a beginner who can't yet make a "proper" sound. They generally (but not always!) stay on the right side of that line. The most engaging bits are when a kind of telepathy becomes evident in the timing and choices of notes — you can feel it, it looks like they can feel it too, there's something there for them to bind to, and the music momentarily acquires an ecstatic coherence.

Sam then announced that they were going to attempt something together, invited Liam to start off singing unaccompanied. Appropriately, he chose "Honest Land". Sam came in, Raven came in (back on violin), and then gradually the J/R/T Trio came in and started mangling it into unrecognisable shapes. Liam faded it out at just the right point, Raven cautiously joined the maelstrom, it went somewhere far from "Honest Land", but then Sam started bringing lines from the song back in on Piano, closing the circuit. It was a worthy exploration, and felt exactly the right length. More good stuff from FR. And well attended this time.

* * *

I've since learned from Sam that the batteries on his digital recorder died almost as soon as the evening started. Fortunately I'd urged Liam's brother Callum, sitting nearby, to record it on his phone, so something (at least the first bit) may surface. But for now, here's some footage of L&R that recently surfaced on Youtube:


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