The Crossing, Digbeth, Birmingham UK
This was the second night of bassist Chris Mapp’s quartet with a guest musician. Maja Ratkje was the first night’s guest, and the Norwegian vocalist/composer/improviser had stayed on to play a first half solo, which was an unexpected and hugely rewarding treat.
Ratkje epitomises the modern Norwegian musical mindset: there are no categories and no limits in her music, and yet there is also extraordinary focus and character. Yes, she is called a vocalist because the sounds she makes are generated by her vocal cords. But, as with all the musicians working in this field, and all the musicians performing on this rainy night in this Digbeth venue, the initial sound creator is a very small part of the process. Using a conventional microphone, but also what appeared to be a tiny one which she would put into her mouth, Ratkje created a whole electronic orchestra of notes and noises, given even greater effect by the surround sound in the auditorium. It was a real ear-opener.
After a brief break five figures appeared in the relative darkness of the stage – I am looking for a word for gloom that is anything but gloomy because the lighting for these performances was hugely effective and kept the focus very much on the play of light and music around the musicians rather than on the players themselves. Those figures were Chris Mapp on bass (a five string electric with a wide arrange of floor pedals and more), Leafcutter John on electronics (mainly using his extraordinary light table), Mark Sanders on drums and percussion (he had a large military drum set horizontally among other things), Dan Nicholls on keyboards and other electronics, and Arve Henriksen on trumpets, vocals and electronics.
Their set was substantially one long piece which I am guessing was a group improvisation for the most part. Not only does this music throw the listener with regard to what is pre-planned and what is not, it also messes with the mind with reference to who might be doing what. Are the sounds Leaf cutter John is making all sourced in the other musicians’ sounds? Is Nicholls also live sampling? Is Mapp? And of their own instruments, or of each other’s too? Of course it’s all irrelevant. This is thoroughly immersive music demanding that we throw ourselves in to experience it as purely as we can.
The immensity of the sound created was great and grand – an enormous space seemed to open up, reverberating with multi-layered bass frequencies which sometimes swelled with each other, sometimes bounced off, usually threw up new combined resonances. The keyboards sounds, the drums, expanded the range, and Leafcutter John, his hand-held lights whipping back and forth across the board of his instrument, added to their stature. It’s a bit like the audio equivalent of slowly massing thunder clouds piling up in the sky. And in amongst it all, Henriksen sent out his shards of trumpet light or glows of high vocals, and then manipulated those to create sunshine appearing here and there, sudden shafts of treble sparkling and gleaming against the dark.
The last time I heard Gonimoblast was playing support to Polar Bear at the Hare and Hounds back in March of 2014 they were interesting but perhaps a little unformed. What a difference 18 months, Jazzlines support and Jerwood Charitable Foundation funds have made: Gonimoblast’s music has grown into a real giant! Mapp and his fellows have also achieved the same thing Ratkje had shown earlier: real focus and clear character. And that is not easy to achieve in any music, not least the kind where the whole sonic world is at one’s fingertips.
A very impressive performance indeed, and well presented too in a venue which was new to me but which was just right for this music.
Categories: Live review