Dan Nicholls’ Point X

Dan Nicholls' Point X at the CBSO Centre (Photo © John Watson/thsh.co.uk)

Dan Nicholls’ Point X at the CBSO Centre (Photo © John Watson/thsh.co.uk)

CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

At one point in this third Jazzlines Fellowship event an image flickered on the screen – Dan was triggering video images during the performance – of what might have been a headphones stall in an African market. The multi-coloured, high tech electronic accessories against a vast African sky and with probably a dusty hubbub surrounding them seemed to epitomise what Point X was achieving during their hugely entertaining hour and a half set.

From left to right in a wide arc beneath the video screen were Dan on keyboards, electronics and a home-made electric bass-kalimba; Bex Burch on a Ghanaian wooden xylophone (called a gyill) and percussion, kit drummers Dave Derose and Jim Hart, Kaw Secka on sabar and tama drums, Matt Calvert on guitar, electronics and keyboards, and tenor saxophonists Tom Challenger and Shabaka Hutchings.

Instruments therefore ranging from skin stretched across carved wood to microchips and digital processors, producing sounds that, as a result of the artistry of Dan and his musicians, were not only remarkably cohesive but managed to explore all sorts of intriguing aspects of our global musical heritage.

The titles of the pieces reflected their composer’s visits in the past year to Senegal and Ghana: Accra, Sabar, Dancer and more. Dan referred to Konono No.1, the amazing band from the Democratic Republic of Congo which has made its own instruments and PA system from junk, and Point X has developed a similar wall of glorious sound. You know you are in the right place when the drummers are grinning at each other.

There were Nicholls’ characteristic circular figures of knotty notes, which were then picked up gradually by the rest of the band until everyone was playing a variation in a kind of minimalist, overlapping clamour; there was ecstatic drumming and singing from Kaw Secka, there was a Ghanaian gyill solo section from Bex Burch, and there were some hypnotic electronic interludes of chattering, sampled and manipulated sounds masterminded by Nicholls and Matt Calvert.

Yes, there were a couple of occasions when I thought “this section has been going on a little too long now” but that’s an understandable risk when a band is imposing a different kind of structure from the usual – encouraging an English audience to adapt to African time, one might say.

Indeed, I imagined at one point how marvellous this music would sound in a mud-walled courtyard with nothing but palm trees and an African night sky above; and yet it also sounded marvellous in the brick-lined high space of the CBSO Centre, for this is thoroughly English/European music as well.

It’s music that takes risks (and therefore isn’t always fully successful), and music that sounds like nothing else around (and therefore encourages a different way of listening0. Most importantly, it’s music of bold conception which has enormous potential for further development. It left me both exhausted and invigorated.

Dan Nicholls, Point X and Jazzlines should all be very proud indeed of what they have achieved.

  • Dan Nicholls’ Jazzlines Fellowship was supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Categories: Live review

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