It was way back in the hazy mists of time that I initially encountered the art of what’s become European “improv”. I’m sure they didn’t call it that back then but it was a very feisty and British take on the Free Jazz of Ornette, Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. Being confronted by musicians like bassist Barry Guy, drummer Tony Oxley – his kit was something else – and Marxist Leninist trombonist Paul Rutherford was a challenging and mind enhancing experience. Basically, as musicians they were totally wayward. They had opted for life on the edge but as a result succeeded in creating a far reaching and radical alternative sound palette with their individual instruments.
Over the years there have been numerous ventures that united this dedicated community of musicians like John Stevens’ Little Theatre Club in Covent Garden, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, Iskra 1903 /1912, the annual Free Jazz Meeting sponsored in Baden-Baden, the short-lived Musicians’ Co-operative, to name but a few, but it is a scene that has more often than not seen lean times in the UK.
However, in 2012, we can give thanks that there appears to be a revival of interest in this practice, as exemplified by the young audiences in East London’s Cafe Oto who are savouring the explorations of musicians like Peter Brotzmann, Eddie Prevost, Black Top’s Pat Thomas and Orphy Robinson, Alan Wilkinson, Steve Noble and Steve Beresford to name but a few.
To celebrate this resurgence I wish to give props to a local exhibition – 7UP – which is currently happening in the Gallery at the back of Stoke Newington library in North London. This is their 2nd year and I passed through the show yesterday – rather late I’m afraid as it has already been running for a week – and encountered paintings inspired by improvised music (Gina Southgate) and visual art produced by artists who are primarily musicians.
In the visual mix we have a host of veterans and activists from the London improv scene including Paul Shearsmith, Marco Mattios, Gilles Leaman, Susan Lynch, Nick Lubran and Rob Mills. With this crew in the house an “Arts Lab” vibe is inevitable. Expect the unexpected when the forces at play gather.
I was touched by Paul Shearsnith’s homage to his beloved Volvo and the recordings of his replica car being used as a source of percussion. Bassist Marco Mattios is an accomplished and serious ceramicist and I was definitely intrigued by the images and process of Tale Of What! :
Tale of What! – is an art/music project
Tale of What! – is a music derived from graphic art
Tale of What! – is machine drawings
Tale of What! – is improvised
Tale of What! – is collage
Poems are read and the shredded, placed a plastic bags, sealed and given to the listeners. There are seascapes and landscapes (one inspired by a Requiem as it was performed in the gothic atmosphere of nearby Abney Park cemetery). There’s a hint of darkness and a touch of the “outsider”.
Don’t expect the scale and polish of my previous post (Shepard Fairey). This is a show done by mostly by musicians who are exploring another dimension to their musical practice and, in essence, it is an intimate affair. That said, if you’re in the Stoke Newington area over the weekend there will be a steady flow of performances and live painting in the Gallery. There’s a portion of interesting work to browse through and you may even feel like making a purchase. I myself was drawn to a spontaneous painted image of saxophonist Steve Williamson.
7UP, The Gallery, Stoke Newington Library, Edwards Lane, N16 0JJ
Friday: 12-6 /Saturday 12-5 / Sunday 1 -5
LIVE SETS: 2 till 4pm!
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