Somnambule - Writing About Music

Back In Your Town 5

19 August 2004, Red Rose Club

With Riaan Vosloo, John Edwards, Ashley Wales, Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford, Pete Flood, Pete Marsh

First Half
The musicians take a long time to make their way to the stage, but if the audience has felt any impatience it’s dissolved immediately by the shortlived, but dramatic duet between Lol Coxhill on alto and John Edwards on double bass. It’s a squirrelling, intense exchange soon joined by drummer Pete Flood’s thundersharp knucklehits. The air above the stage is strafed by their high-pitched squiggles until the trio begin a slow descent into anxious nether regions. Riaan Vosloo joins the fray and he and Edwards pick and grab urgently at their strings creating a harrassed frenzy while Coxhill now joined by Paul Rutherford’s trombone swoop and glide like voracious owls in search of prey. It’s as though the intensity knob has been turned to 10 without passing through 1 to 9. The music is harsh, detailed, on the run and it’s suddenly being troubled further by Pete Marsh’s Novation bass station (a monophonic analogue synthesizer capable of some fine sounds), which slips its leash without warning. After 10 minutes or so the group stop unexpectedly on the head of a pin leaving Ashley Wales, seated behind his boxes of tricks, to look up momentarily surprised. The silence of the others reveals the subtle sound that he’s been contributing for an indeterminate amount of time. Riaan Vosloo adds some high-pitched bowing while Pete Flood plays chimes. The three appear to be painting a pagan, pastoral rite in broad brush strokes until the music gradually metamorphoses and the whole octet are playing. Vosloo, Edwards, Rutherford and trumpeter Ian R. Watson provide an ensemble sound like a resonant tortoise/sea shell, against and through which Coxhill creates cunning, slanting shapes. It’s impossible to predict what format the next minute will deliver – if the players don’t know, how could the audience? One moment, John Edwards will be furiously stabbing at the double bass, the next he’ll have looked around to his left, straightened his back and started listening to his colleagues. Thus does the ensemble reshape and reform: suddenly, but without pause. Coxhill and Rutherford full of spit and splutter are underscored by Edwards’ bowed lament until they’re suddenly dive-bombed by Marsh’s bass-station which is clearly suffering the illusion that it’s a flying saucer intent on taking no prisoners. It’s not an exaggeration to say that courtesy of Pete Marsh’s aggressive electric interventions, the ghost of Herbie Hancock’s 1972 Mwandishi Sextet hovers above the heads of the players. As Marsh’s ship disappears over the horizon to attack other settlements, Vosloo and Edwards who had downed bows now return to the fray plucking a path through the wreckage, Edwards is particularly driven, animated, intent. Together they provide a churning powerhouse pounded and pummelled by Pete Flood, electrolised once again by Pete Marsh and seared by Ian Watson. Throughout this first half, there’s a sense of a binding group dynamic: each player is undeniably an integral part of the ensemble but also clearly recognisable as an individual: a big, weird beast with many heads. As they come to a screeching stop, it’s striking to realise both that there’s been virtually no delineated rhythm until the very end and that the intensity hasn’t let up for a moment.

Second Half
After a short break the music begins again with Marsh’s cosmic squelches serenaded by Rutherford’s warbling trombone. Skyline events, brief arcs, long, slow descents. The energy is still there, but there’s more space now, and consequently more time for reflection. It feels very much like the obverse of the first half. Rutherford experiences an intense bout of logorrhea to which Pete Flood contributes sudden, dramatic drumrolls whose fascination lies as much in what is missing from, as what is audible in, each peal. This is a Flood specialism witnessed in previous Back In Your Town nights: pinpoint accurate non-repetitiveness and a wilful ability to ruthlessly excise beats whilst remaining very funky indeed – a case of being on the .66 if you will. Imagine an identikit picture collaged by Braque whose utter abstraction mysteriously enables the recognition and unfailing apprehension of its subject. John Edwards joins in explosively and the resulting quintet has all the scary power of a particularly violent bout of epilepsy. Peter Marsh, who has been the motivic, wildcard force that has prodded this music up an essential notch to become something extra special, contributes a primal two note bass figure which underscores long, held tones from his colleages. As Watson manipulates these tones the second half comes to a natural end.

Colin Buttimer
Published by Me