The Homemade Orchestra featuring Denys Baptiste & Mike Outram
The Homemade Orchestra:
Kathleen Willison (voice)
Tim Whitehead (saxophones)
Joanna Lawrence (violin)
Zoë Martlew (cello)
Oli Hayhurst (bass)
Liam Noble (piano)
Rob Millett (percussion)
Milo Fell (drums)
Colin Riley (keyboard/conductor)
Plus special guests:
Denys Baptiste (tenor saxophone)
Mike Outram (guitar)
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 3 February, 2005
Venue: The Spitz, Old Spitalfields Market, London E1
The close links between jazz and classical music throughout the last century are evident from the traffic between the two traditions; recent examples might include Acoustic Triangle’s delicate re-imaginings of Debussy, or Mark-Anthony Turnage’s productive fascination with Miles Davis’s electric sound. There are enough composers whose show of crossing boundaries masks a musical vacuum to make one wary of eclecticism as a marketing ploy; however, there are also many intelligent musicians whose work defies casual categorisation, and The Spitz is an excellent venue at which to hear them.
The composer Colin Riley is one such musician, and the Homemade Orchestra, a post-modern big-band he founded several years ago with ex-Loose Tubes saxophonist Tim Whitehead, draws together musicians from varied backgrounds. At the opening concert of IF-05, a new-music festival curated by Riley and fellow composer Peter Wiegold, this versatile line-up played a grab-bag of original compositions, some of them from the Orchestra’s first album “Tides”, and some quirky arrangements of popular songs taken from their second, “Inside Covers”.
The ensemble sounded a little uncertain to begin with, and the first couple of songs fell a little flat before a less-than-demonstrative audience. However, the arrival of the evening’s ‘special guests’, guitarist Mike Outram and tenor powerhouse Denys Baptiste, added extra muscle to the sound, and Riley’s “When Soft Voices Die” made excellent use of the rich mahogany sound of Whitehead and Baptiste with Zoë Martlew’s cello. “Oil on Water” was, Riley told us, intended to produce tensions between composed and improvised elements; not a new idea, but one producing a welcome grittiness as stark electric textures rubbed against mournful canons.
It was after the interval that the band really gelled, starting with a couple of improvisations by the two tenors, sensitive sparring partners in spontaneous counterpoint. A new composition by percussionist Rob Millett suggested Steve Reich meeting John Scofield, with shifting vibraphone patterns building to Outram’s furious guitar solo. Riley’s “Blue Space” situated the tenor saxophones in a beguiling soundscape that combined electronic tintinnabulation with live percussion; his spare arrangement of Bryan Ferry’s “Here Comes the Flood”, with vocals from the glamorous Kathleen Willison, held the audience rapt. Tim Whitehead’s manic deconstruction of “Just In Time” ended the concert in anarchic fashion, by which time the Orchestra had comfortably moved beyond category into promising territory of its own.