London Contemporary Orchestra – Inaugural Concert [Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Scorched]

Turnage
Scorched

Alastair Putt (guitar), Mat Elliott (bass) & James Gambold (drums)
London Contemporary Orchestra
Hugh Brunt


0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 15 March, 2008
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

Mark-Anthony TurnageHopefully this concert was the first of many to be given by London Contemporary Orchestra. Under the joint artistic directorship of composer-conductor Hugh Brunt and violist Robert Ames, it has lined up an enticing first season – with a repertoire that ranges from acknowledged classics by Sibelius and Britten to world premieres by younger British composers. An inaugural concert ideally needs a large-scale work, and found it in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Scorched.

Although jazz and funk had long been present in Turnage’s music, their coming together here resulted in a vital new amalgam. Scorched (2002 – the title deriving from ‘SCofield ORCHestratED’) is defined by its collaborative nature: a 16-piece suite that originally featuring John Scofield, John Patitucci and Peter Erskine along with a fusion of big-band and symphony orchestra; and whose material, selected by Turnage from across Scofield’s output, spans the gamut from ‘derived from’ to ‘improvised on’.

The first thing about this realisation was that the three musicians forming the jazz trio more than lived up to the challenge of their illustrious predecessors. Thus after the abrasive processional of ‘Make Me 1’, the heavy groove of ‘Make Me 2’ ventures decisively into jazz-funk territory. There follows the plangent ‘Hope Springs Eternal’, then the dense string polyphony that opens ‘Kubrick’ alternates with ominous woodwind writing. ‘Away With Words’ is a slow blues that features a typically elastic Scofield melody line, while the animated pizzicato of ‘Fat Lip 1’ gives the string-players their head – before ‘Fat Lip 2’ drew the trio in a work-out underpinned by visceral drumming from James Gambold.

‘Deadzy’ has a slow-burning expressionist feel, before a general pause saw the switch to a big-band ambience and the gritty syncopation of ‘Trim’, followed by the tense atmospherics of ‘Polo Towers’. An intimate guitar solo, eloquently played by Alastair Putt, prefaces the sparky woodwind interplay of ‘Nocturnal Mission’, then ‘Let’s Say We Did’ ushers in a mellower mood – fronted by soulful sax from Thomas Chapman (his part originally written for Martin Robertson and acting as a ‘bridge’ between classical and jazz domains), underpinned by an insinuating bass line from Mat Elliott. ‘The Nag’ draws the trio into a profusion of colliding metres, out of which Putt ensures continuity via the deft soloing of ‘Cadenza’. The climax arrives in ‘Gil B643’, which distils a brooding atmosphere worthy of pianist and arranger Gill Evans, before ‘Protocol’ unites the musicians in a toccata-like riff of surging funk.

There can be no qualms about the degree of commitment from either trio or London Contemporary Orchestra – all the musicians visibly enjoying themselves and directed with unobtrusive clarity and skill by Brunt, who secured a judicious tonal balance across the varied and constantly changing ensemble. Moreover, recourse to amplification was perfectly judged – projecting the immediacy of the music-making without the risk of obscuring or distorting textures that often teem with activity.

Although Scorched could hang together more by inference than design, the imaginative reformulation of ‘third-stream’ principles ensures its impact is amply sustained. Speaking beforehand, Turnage had stressed the need for other musicians to take on the work if it is to have a life beyond performances by those who inspired it. That it does have a future was evident here; and the same must be said for London Contemporary Orchestra – clearly a force for good on the capital’s new-music scene.

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