Steve Beresford and Satoko Fukuda – Ray's Jazz at Foyles, London

This meeting of two exceptional musicians on the outer edges of improvisation saw long-standing piano experimentalist Beresford and classical violinist Fukuda exploring the sonic limits of their instruments while combining in an appealing, richly communicative set. Beresford treats the whole piano as his workstation – reaching deep under the lid to pluck, scrape or dampen the strings, striking the woodwork, employing a range of idiosyncratic objects that turn the piano into a cabinet of curiosities. In a lovely moment, the flicker of a smile crosses Satoko's face as she glimpses the wine glass that's arrived amongst the piano's innards.

There's a chance element too – some of the objects seem to have a mind of their own, not all are used, and as the musicians chart their course through this extended soundworld there's an overriding sense of the uniqueness of tonight's performance. Quick thinking and impeccable timing (the piano lid snapping shut!) make for an exciting listening - and visual - experience.   Impressively, amid the fast-flowing changes and unending invention, the two give each other plenty of

space – they meet and separate, or dart between one another. At one point Beresford simply stops because Fukuda's sound is so beautiful. A memorable sequence of sliding and scraping creates a sound like the squall of fireworks, while the breathtaking close of the second improvisation has the musicians playing in their highest registers with volume down to a whisper. At other times they're in opposition – exquisitely expressive violin against hard-edged keyboard for instance – though both players explore lyrical and percussive directions and probe dynamic extremes.   The endings to all three improvisations are magical moments where it seems time stops or the music is simply set free. With no repetition and no discernable structure, we have to sharpen our listening – but this is adventurous, intuitive music-making that's well worth tuning into. – Philip Hogg

Partikel String Theory Quartet at The Bull’s Head, Barnes

Partikel’s third album String Theory follows on from 2012’s Cohesion and finds a new cohesion in an impressive integration of jazz trio and strings. The group have recently adapted this live as a quartet with the album’s arranger and violin player Benet McLean.

On new tunes ‘Land and Sea’ and ‘Scenes and Sounds’ McLean’s violin solos are rich in Eastern European style ornamentation, with filmic themes reminiscent of Preisner’s music for Kieślowski. An outstanding soloist with a penchant for quotation McLean playfully relates snatches of Stravinsky and ‘My Favourite Things’.

To simulate the new textures that the strings provided on the album the violin and sax go through electronic stomp boxes. A ‘Blue Hippo’ analog chorus pedal gives the Duncan Eagles’s saxophone some skronk during ‘The Blood of the Pharaoh’, reminiscent of recent Polar Bear’s echo-drenched palette but with a greater sense of compositional structure and drama.

“The Landing”, which closes both the album and their first set, dramatises Eagles’s nervousness about air travel not the flying itself, but the landing. It depicts the carnage of landing and the peace of flying but it’s not that straightforward. The flight isn’t peaceful. Over Max Luthert’s ultrashort bass figure the sax and violin weave long and unsettlingly harmonised themes that hold back from a neat resolution.

When they break out with Eric Ford’s tumbling drum work and Eagles’s punchy soloing the music really takes off. Working with just one string player lets them explore the textural dynamic of String Theory but with the flexibility of a quartet. Partikel recently completed a monthlong tour of China, flying everywhere, and Eagles isn’t nervous any more about flying (or landing). They considered dropping the tune, but it’s such a soaring end to the set you’re glad they didn’t. A quartet album is due next year.

        AJ Dehany

 

Nik Bartsch & Ronin Rhythm Clan – Kings Place, London

Nik Bartsch

Opening Night of the London Jazz Festival brought us Nik Bartsch's Rhythm Clan, an expanded version of the Swiss pianist/composer's long-standing Ronin group, adding electric guitar and horn section to the ascetic mix. Dressed down in black, the band exudes a masculine, vaguely menacing air as it gathers under purple stage-lighting – though when Bartsch speaks, he's warm and welcoming, inviting us to come and see the band any Monday in Zurich. Bartsch himself wears black kimono – there's definitely drama at work here, though as the music unfolds the attire seems less for our benefit, more a way of honing in on a place of heightened discipline and awareness. From the first note, it's clear this is a band rigorous in every way. Incredible precision marks entries and time-shifts. The mostly modular compositions bring razor-sharp transformations: new sections arrive already locked into the groove, timepiece drumming wonderfully crisp against chords warmed with the colours of flute and flugelhorn. Bass clarinet features strongly, sometimes snapping like percussion, and there's an extended sound-palette at the keyboard, with prepared piano – Bartsch occasionally striking the instrument with drumsticks for a sound like the crack of Japanese temple blocks – and the judicious use of Rhodes. Soloing isn't a priority – groove, dynamics and collective focus give the music its intensity and sense of purpose. Often the only way to stop the relentless drive is with a sharp cut – dead-stop and blackout come together several times with dramatic effect. Billed as part of the Minimalism Unwrapped series as well as the Jazz Festival, the cumulative power of repetition and rhythmic shift did bring to mind the world of Reich, as well as that of Bartsch's compatriot Le Corbusier and his concept of the house as a 'machine for living in' – maybe this is music as a machine for human experience.

– Philip Hogg

Hiromi - The Trio Project

Hiromi

First time at the Royal Festival Hall for Hiromi with what's become less of a trio 'project', more like her regular band of Anthony Jackson (contrabass guitar) and Simon Phillips (drums). In fact each musician has a strong following, and amongst the audience there are those who've come especially to see Jackson (for his work with Steely Dan, Chick Corea) or Phillips (The Who, Jack Bruce) as well as the powerhouse pianist herself. A moment of stillness as she lays her fingers on the keys and then they're off – this is a trio who love driving fast and pulling up sharp: it's never less than thrilling. Hands a-blur, feet off the ground (she's wearing her trademark trainers), powering through passagework at supersonic speeds, maintaining complex patterns seemingly indefinitely – Hiromi has the stamina of an athlete. She certainly gives her all and seems bursting with the sheer joy of performing. At the end of a particularly energetic passage she leaps from the piano as if it's scalding hot – which it probably is. There's obvious warmth and empathy between the members of the trio, and their listening is super-sharp – Hiromi has the look of a hunter as she leans forward over the keys to catch the essence of Phillips' drumming or trade eights with Jackson. If there's a criticism, it's that the full-steam intensity doesn't always give much chance for the personal – generic titles like 'Spark' and 'Alive' mark pieces that dazzle but don't always move. The most personal statement comes at the opening of the second set, when Hiromi, solo, gives a rendition of her signature piece 'Place To Be', and reminds us of that meltingly expressive touch. There's no doubt she's a generous soul who loves to make her audience happy, but perhaps with her trio there's still room to tell us more about how they really feel.

– Philip Hogg

Christophe Fellay with Notes Inegales

Club Inégales, London

A warm and switched-on audience gathered for this edition of Peter Wiegold's category-defying, gently idealistic club-night, featuring Swiss drummer Fellay in a solo set and later in collaboration with the eclectic Notes Inégales band. But first the house ensemble, directed from the keyboard by Wiegold and revelling in the line-up of cello, tuba, piano, guitar and Korean flute, gave us a group improvisation that began sharp-edged and stormy and somehow ended in the serene soundworld of Mahler's 'Das Lied von Der Erde'. Fellay's solo improvisation was a lesson in feel and close listening as he shared with us the secret life of the drums. Using a tiny hand-held microphone to track his own playing, he was able to pick up the hidden frequencies and subtle resonances of his kit and develop these uncovered sounds into something like a new drum vocabulary – the revelation being that even one small cymbal contains a world of sound. With this extended language at his fingertips, Fellay produced a beautifully shaped and eloquent piece that was richly atmospheric, bringing to mind rain and skudding clouds – weather and nature. It wasn't a literal depiction, the music was too free-flowing and in-the-moment – even so, an artist's surroundings can't help but seep into their consciousness, and Fellay does come from the Alps.

The final part of the evening saw Notes Inégales back on stage with Fellay for another two adventurous pieces that blurred the boundaries between written and improvised music. The first was a set of four movements devised by Wiegold based on Korean rhythm-patterns; the second a wide-ranging suite by Fellay that mixed mellifluous textures with an edgy energy. The musicians had spent the afternoon shaping these pieces, which will evolve further: after this gig everyone was heading to Switzerland where the mountains will probably have their own effect.

– Philip Hogg

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