Lola & Roland Perrin
Blue Planet Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Lewis
Reviewed: 15 March, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London Purcell Room
Football, they say, is a game of two halves. If, ignoring the problems inherent in finding a game that is, say, one or three halves, we were to suppose that this concert by the Perrin Siblings was compared to a football match, the first hour was the equivalent of watching snooker on BBC2 by mistake. It would be hard to find any other performing duo as dissimilar in their styles or approach, and there is often good reason for this.
The first hour of the concert was devoted to Lola’s solo playing on the piano, occasionally to the visual accompaniment of abstract film. Her work is, effectively, minimalist, with nods to Michael Nyman, and seems to be an exploration of harmonic colour, the tonal extremities of the instrument and the motivic use of intervals. Sometimes, perhaps, too much of an exploration, as after a while you feel there is, maybe, only so much left to do with a clutch of Sevenths, Ninths and a perpetually falling bass-line. This, therefore, made a more unfortunate background to the occasional fumble.
It is the writing for film that demonstrated Lola at her most appealing, when her gentle accompaniments captivatingly mirrored the strange hovering beauty and abstract colours of the image. As well as calling Michael Winterbottom and Nyman’s collaboration on “Wonderland to mind”, her score to Phil Maxwell’s “East End I” conjured up an entrancing and beguiling sadness, matching the image effortlessly both temporally and atmospherically. (It is interesting to note that Maxwell has recently worked with Nyman on his European tour.)
Before we examine the differences between the siblings’ playing, I can not help but, for reasons of accuracy, mention a strange phenomenon. There appears to be no difference at all between the behaviour and etiquette of a classical audience, and that for a jazz gig. And this is not, lest I be misunderstood, a good thing. Not for the first time, I found myself surrounded by people seemingly oblivious to the requirement of others to hear and see the performance without distraction. I am sure there must have been collusion between the man sitting behind me, who spent the concert apparently erasing what I can only assume to be the entire pencil works of Leonardo da Vinci and the man next to me who persisted in trying to play a non-existent harmonica. Whether or not they were in league with the man with St Vitus’s Dance in the row in front, who appeared to be trying to direct taxiing aircraft, I don’t know. But he seemed to have brought along his own table-tennis bats, just in case.
Anyway, the differences in the siblings’ playing became very apparent with their duet on two pianos, with a few minor ensemble problems the result of the contrast between Lola’s free, rubato style and Roland’s more solid, jazz virtuosity. It is this solidity that underpinned the evening’s second half, pervading the combination of Roland and his Blue Planet Orchestra. Together, with a fusion of international styles, they achieve a superb combination of energetic groove and intellectual restraint, born of innate musicianship and musical understanding. This is, I suspect, down in some degree to the understated drumming of Eduardo Marques and cool grounding of Rey Crespo and his rather covetous upright electric bass. Comprising the horn section was the towering Paul Taylor and his sumptuous trombone tone, and the multi-talented Ross Hughs, whose formidable sax and clarinet skills pale next to his ability to captivate an entire audience with his cavaquinho. Not a skill to be taken lightly. Or without a dictionary.
It is a shame, therefore, that the mysteriously named “V” (presumably the lovechild of Judi Dench and John Cleese’s ‘Bond’ characters) failed to match the otherwise total competency with her vocals. Although she exhibited a voice with many different facets, her curious tone was easily lost in the mix, and her upper ranges appeared overly strained. None of this was helped by a very close microphone technique emphasising sibilance and, occasionally but too often, the saliva, and the odd fleeting confusion with the lyrics.
Roland’s writing demonstrates the same intellectual integrity, especially in his ‘What if…?’ compositions, aimed at giving classical music jazz treatment. “Elise”, for example, wittily asks what we might have inherited if Beethoven had been Spanish. Later on, a salsa’d “Maple Leaf Rag” told us what a Cuban Scott Joplin might have been thinking. Roland manages a rare thing in writing actually funny music, and left me wishing that Ludwig had contemplated packing it all in Vienna and heading off to the Costa Del Sol.
Other highlights included “All Night Blues”, which would have made the gravel-voiced Tom Waites proud, and “Yellow Train”, with its description of an island with one train and one station. (Rather like the Isle of Wight.) Joined once again by Lola, “Utopian Breeze”, with Roland’s defection to the accordion, provided a fitting, rewarding and subtle end to a wonderfully understated set.