Rhythm Sticks 2005 – Robert Mitchell / Oriole / Timeline



Robert Mitchell (piano)

Jonny Phillips (guitar)
Ingrid Laubrock (tenor saxophone)
Ben Davis (cello)
Nick Ramm (keyboards)
??? (electric bass)
Seb Rochford (drums)
Adriano Adewale Itauna (percussion)
Julia Biel (vocals)
Alice Grant (vocals)

Barak Schmool (alto saxophone)
Nick Ramm (keyboards)
David Okumu (guitar)
Tom Herbert (electric bass)
Leo Taylor (drums)
Ivan Ormond (percussion)

0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 21 July, 2005
Venue: Purcell Room, London

In what amounted to a mini-festival within the “Rhythm Sticks” season, the London-based F-IRE Collective presented an evening of wildly contrasting music, emphasising the organisation’s friendly eclecticism. F-IRE was described by the pianist Robert Mitchell as “an ever-growing party”, and despite an atmosphere muted by the day’s terrorism events, an attractively informal and inclusive spirit prevailed.

Mitchell’s ten-part suite Equinox was commissioned by the Jerwood Trust and BBC Radio 3 in 2002, and nominated for a BBC Jazz Award for Best New Work. In its full glory it lasts for ninety minutes, though what we heard was a version condensed down to an hour’s music. Mitchell generates an austere intensity from a mixture of Satie-esque stasis and Debussian harmonic colours (via Bill Evans), illuminated by jazz inflection and flashes of mercurial passagework. When his right-hand breaks into free-flowing runs it is thrilling in its grace and agility; it would be good to hear the work expanded to its full potential, with more space for improvisatory adventures (a recording is slated for next January). But the music’s beauty derives from its restraint, in a delicate flowering of melody over a hypnotic single-note pulse (‘Each Bird Must Sing’) or the inward spiral of harmony in ‘Equinocturne’. The work, Mitchell told us, is “dedicated to peace … so it isn’t going out of fashion anytime soon”.

After such precisely-formed intensity, the world-jazz of Oriole came as welcome contrast. Jonny Phillips’s band offered a musical utopia planted somewhere between the Americas, West Africa and Europe, whose unorthodox line-up produced a beautiful blended sound-world all its own. The predominant rhythms were Latin, an impression heightened by Adriano Adewale Itauna’s sonorous cahon and frisky triangle, over which Ben Davis’s cello and Ingrid Laubrock’s silvery tenor floated wistful melodies. Nick Ramm was a decisive presence on keyboards, and Seb Rochford’s loose-limbed, sardonic polyrhythms kept things from getting too tasteful. There was a lot of obvious give-and-take between the musicians; even when one took a solo, it was clear that this was just the top-note of a complex, shifting web of sound. Only a mid-tempo number introduced as “a song about the train” never left the station, but guest vocalist Julia Biel’s soulful rendition of “Song for the Sleeping” sent shivers.

Timeline was the first of the F-IRE projects, and came out of a group of jazz musicians gathering to study African percussion. The name is apt; this is a group whose adaptation of West African rhythmic concepts has resulted in a mastery of musical time. Their rhythms flex and hiccup, race ahead and dovetail back in uncanny unison. It sounded like super-evolved jazz funk, with David Okumu’s intergalactic guitar solos circling in space over involved rhythmic counterpoint. Barak Schmool’s compositions were fearsome, but he and Nick Ramm ripped through the high-wire melodies seemingly without breaking sweat. Once again, the collaborative and collective nature of the music was obvious. By opening their ears and minds to new sounds and concepts, the musicians of F-IRE have made something that sounds very much like the future of jazz.

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