London Jazz Festival – The Bays & The Heritage Orchestra

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The Bays [Andy Gangadeen (drums), Simon Richmond & Ski Oakenfull (keyboards) and Chris Taylor (bass)]

The Heritage Orchestra [Jules Buckley (conductor), John Metcalfe & Simon Hale (composer-improvisers)]

The Heritage Orchestra
Jules Buckley

Adam Seaman (VJ – Visual DJ)


Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: 22 November, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Every concert by The Bays is a spontaneous, unrehearsed improvisation. The band doesn’t record albums, so each concert is unique and unrepeatable. With the Heritage Orchestra, the ‘no preparation’ ethos has been taken to the extreme: two composers improvise on the spot to what they are hearing from The Bays, and their compositions are immediately transcribed by Sibelius music software, which displays the resulting scores on screens that are sight-read by conductor and orchestra. Similarly, the images projected onto the three large screens behind the musicians are spontaneously improvised by a ‘VJ’ (visual DJ) in response to the music he is hearing. The only rehearsal for this performance was technical rather than musical. An audacious concept then – but did it work?

We had an inkling of what might come with the support group, which was headed by John Metcalfe, one of the composer-improvisers for the main act. The performance started off promisingly, with reverb-drenched strings suggestive of the ECM chill of Arild Andersen or David Darling, slowly morphing into Sigur Rós and shoegaze territory. But despite occasionally interesting samples, the music deteriorated when over-repeated keyboard phrases and pedestrian drumming built towards a thumping but somewhat lumpen climax.

Back to The Bays and the Heritage Orchestra. They too built the music like a DJ in a nightclub: start slowly then build the rhythmic intensity, drop back to a quiet interlude then build some more, drop back then build and build towards a full-on rhythmic assault. The Bays did this successfully, and the visual imagery projected onto the screens matched the increasing musical energy, becoming ever faster and brighter – not to mention the lights, casting colourful searchlight beams around the auditorium, creating a nightclub feel.

Ah, the orchestra. Technologically and conceptually, it deserved an ovation. Considering the complexity of what was being undertaken, there were some moments of real musical telepathy, such as when the strings went into in a call-and-response routine with solo trumpet. But inevitably the music suffered from zero preparation, falling back time and again to long unison passages and simple motifs endlessly repeated – not helped by the occasional sense that there was a slight delay between The Bays and the orchestra, like those news broadcasts where a foreign reporter’s responses are fractionally behind the anchor’s questions from the studio. Still, by the end of the concert, the Bays’ rhythmic juggernaut seemed unstoppable and the crowd – listening with their feet – loved it.

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