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Somnambule - Writing About Music

Chris Bowden vs Heritage Orchestra

29th November 2004, Cargo

Chris Bowden’s debut, Time Capsule, was released in 1996 to critical acclaim, but it took another seven years for its successor, 2003’s Slightly Askew, to appear. Where Time Capsule appeared to drop fully formed from an alternative 1970s universe in which a combined jazz and string quartet spontaneously melded with idiosyncractic electronic soundscapes, Slightly Askew proved denser, as though years of unrecorded experience had had to be squeezed into its four long tracks. Whether as leader or playing with Palmskin Productions, 4 Hero and The Herbaliser, Bowden’s distinctive alto sound has been measured, economical, but full of feeling.

The Heritage Orchestra is dedicated to playing Chris Bowden’s music for this one evening. The venue is Cargo, a club space located in three railway arches in London’s fashionable Shoreditch. The 35 members of the ensemble crammed into one of these arches leave only half the remaining space for their enthusiastic audience. Dressed in black, Bowden sits red-eyed and intent at their centre. He clearly doesn’t feel the need to play continuously and is instead content to allow his writing to speak for itself. When he does play, his solos have an architectural sense to them, together with a clear interest in cohesive form and of coercing the music’s flow. Multifaceted compositions such as Crockers And Killers and Mothers And Daughters Now Mothers make clear Bowden’s skills in writing for both winds and strings, while retaining a strong feeling for the jazz unit at the music’s core. There are successive shades of South America, 70s soul funk, breakbeat and even noir blues, on which Bowden plays plaintive and passionately sincere. His music is alternately spacious and dense, inspired and methodical, but in whichever mode it surrenders to sudden impulses to fly, swoop and hover. Improvised music as ambitious, emotive and enjoyable as this is all too rare a treat. Here’s hoping that Chris Bowden can create more opportunities for himself both in the UK and internationally. He more than deserves the attention.
Colin Buttimer
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