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London Jazz Festival 1: The peak of their art

After an hour of Mike Westbrook’s autumnal musings at the Pizza Express’s piano on Sunday afternoon, in which the great composer, arranger and bandleader stitched together the memories of a life in music into a seamless reverie with a quiet intensity that held the room in thrall, the scene at the 2021 London Jazz Festival moved to the South Bank, where Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey stormed the Queen Elizabeth Hall with something belonging entirely to the here and now.

Sometimes you get lucky and witness something that makes you realise how high the standards can be. Doesn’t matter what it is. Tennis, poetry, carpentry. On Sunday night it was jazz. A pianist, a bassist and a drummer dropped in to examine the art of the possible, demonstrating over the course of two hours of high-density interplay what can happen when three like-minded virtuosi get it into their heads to create something in which 1+1+1 = infinity.

Basically, they played their way through their recent album, Uneasy. It’s one of the year’s finest releases, but here they stretched it, expanded it, tossed its elements around, and gave it a completely new existence. So many bases were covered — 21st century takes on bebop, Latino patterns, reggae, the circular rhythms of Tyner-Garrison-Jones — that the time passed very quickly.

Linda Oh is the least known of the three, but her bass playing was the heart of the group: slight build, total physical commitment, wonderful tone, great agility, an endless flow of ideas. Vijay Iyer is a cerebral pianist who nevertheless relishes any involvement with rhythm (one night at the Lido in Berlin a few years ago, he and his regular acoustic trio — completed by the bassist Stephan Crump and the drummer Marcus Gilmore — locked into an endless groove that any funk band would have envied). Tyshawn Sorey operates with complete comfort at the absolute extremities of the dynamic range, from whisper-quiet to shatteringly loud, plus every setting in between. On this occasion he made you wonder why anyone would ever need more than a small bass drum, a medium-sized snare, a single cymbal and a hi-hat, from each of which he drew an astonishing variety of tones and timbres.

Their music rattled, jolted, cruised, purred, broke apart, blended back, cantered, swung, faked a stumble, slowed to a sigh. The audacity made you gasp. Solos were taken, but were always part of the whole. Oh’s leaping grooves made you want to dance. Iyer’s upper-register filigree made your mind soar. Sorey’s sudden whipcracks straightened your back.

Another side of the multi-dimensional Sorey is on view in For George Lewis / Autoschediasms, a two-CD set in which his compositions are performed by Alarm Will Sound, a New York-based 16-piece chamber orchestra here made up of brass, woodwind, strings and percussion, tuned and untuned. “For George Lewis”, a 50-minute piece dedication to his mentor and fellow composer, conducted by Alan Pierson, bears the imprint of Sorey’s interest in the music of Morton Feldman: fully composed, based on a process of accretion and subtraction of single held notes, it moves with mesmerising deliberation through austere and refined layers of sound, creating the musical equivalent of colour-field painting.

“Autoschediasms” is Sorey’s name for his version of the approach to creating real-time music with large ensembles pioneered by Butch Morris (who called it “conduction”) and Anthony Braxton. In these two performances, recorded in St Louis in May 2019 and in various US cities via internet video chat in October 2020, Sorey takes the rostrum, giving the musicians prompts via gestures and prepared cue-cards. “The method can involve the use of up to four batons simultaneously by the conductor,” he writes in his informative notes, and anyone who has seen him at a drum kit will know that this is a challenge well within his scope. The result is a much more obviously active ensemble music, its details and densities sometimes clashing or overlapping, but with an emerging coherence and, like a master of action painting, an excellent sense of drama.

* Uneasy by Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey is on ECM. For George Lewis / Autoschediasms by Tyshawn Sorey and Alarm Will Sound is on Cantaloupe Music (www.cantaloupemusic.com).

Songs of the earth

From left: James Mainwaring, Fergus Quill, Michael Bardon, Aby Vulliamy, Steve Hanley (photo: Andrew Benge)

In a quiet, almost sidelong way, the new album by the British saxophonist and composer James Mainwaring is a meditation on the damage inflicted by the Anthropocene epoch on the ecosystems of its host planet. Its title, Mycorrhiza, refers to the interaction between fungi and trees, a scientifically observed phenomenon that allows trees to communicate with each other in order to aid their individual and collective survival in the face of threats.

This might not be an obvious topic for a composer whose work is rooted in jazz, but it’s a good one. Charlie Haden and Carla Bley reflected similar environmental concerns on Time/Life, the last album they made with the Liberation Music Orchestra, but Mycorrhiza finds its own tone and trajectory, largely through the discreet use of field recordings and of the possibility of occasionally and subtly using the organic sounds of free jazz to evoke — but not imitate — the noises of the natural world.

Apart from Mainwaring, who doubles on flutes and keyboards and also sings briefly on several of tracks, the players are Aby Vulliamy (viola, voice), Michael Bardon (cello), Fergus Quill (double bass), Steve Hanley (drums) and, on four of the 13 tracks, Chris Sharkey on electronics.

Mycorrhiza is a programmatic piece with a message, but the narrative content never feels didactic or overbearing. The first section is not even a minute long: a mood-setting hustle of free bass and drums under held notes from saxophone and viola. There’s a sharp cut to the rustlings, scrapings and chirpings of post-SME improvisation, followed by a sort of chamber chorale for bowed strings and saxophone, like a gentle English pastoral version of the Sauter/Getz Focus suite. A piece called “Roots” uses harmonics to suggest organisms communicating and growing together. “Machines”, 28 seconds long, introduces staccato syncopations from strings and horn. “Statues” is full of melody before Mainwaring and Vulliamy intone a lyric — “Did you hear the latest news / Shaking hands in marble rooms…” — in bleached-out unison tones that would fit nicely on to Robert Wyatt record. Against the restrained, finely phrased urgency of Quill’s bass and Hanley’s drums, the composer takes the first real solo of the piece, a rhythm-hurdling saxophone improvisation carefully blended into the ensemble architecture.

That description gets us halfway through a set of pieces that continue through a further variety of dovetailed moods and approaches, gathering in intensity through the scrabbling of “Web”, the etherised tintinnabulation of”Our Lungs” (its lyric a haiku-like four lines) and the baleful agitation of “Globe” until it reaches the finale, “Woken by Dogs”, the longest track at six and a half minutes. After a lyrical piano opening, Mainwaring sings: “Woke up by dogs / Barking in my ears / And just as I feared / The men in black and white are here / Road full of signs / Warpaint ’round my eyes / As they cuffed my hands / Ripping the Superglue began…” Short, fast saxophone-led unison figures are undercut by jolting drums and slowly rising string glissandi until all sounds evaporates into silence.

The warning is not new, but such a creative restatement as Mainwaring achieves in Mycorrhiza is welcome and necessary. You could, I suppose, mentally switch off the message and just enjoy the sounds for their own sake. But since those sounds in this form are driven by a belief in the necessity of repairing the damage done by the human race during its time on earth, and thereby extending the lease a little longer, that would seem foolish.

* James Mainwaring’s Mycorrhiza is out now on the Discus Music label.

Nick Lowe in Covent Garden

Nick Lowe liked the “mischief and mayhem” of the punk-rock era, into which he was drawn through his budding talents as a producer of things like the Damned, Wreckless Eric and Elvis Costello. But he also remembered a collateral phenomenon: there were musicians, he said last night, “who’d been playing Stephen Stills songs the week before and were suddenly pretending they couldn’t play.”

His dry wit was in evidence at an event organised to tie in with the paperback edition of Will Birch’s biography, Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe. A large audience had assembled at the Seven Dials Club in Covent Garden to hear the two of them in conversation — or perhaps I should say reassembled, since we looked very much like the people that would have turned up to hear his band at Dingwalls or the Hope & Anchor, now 40 years further down the line.

Talking about his career, he said he’d changed his approach to recording in the mid-’80s when he realised that his days as a pop star were over and a new direction was required. He wanted other people to cover his songs, and he figured that if he recorded his own versions like demos, other artists would hear them and conclude they could do better.

If they simply followed what he’d done, he said, he felt disappointed. What he really liked was when someone approached one of his songs in a complete different and surprising way. Asked for examples, he mentioned Johnny Cash’s “The Beast in Me”, from the first volume of the American Recordings series, produced by Rick Rubin. Cash, his former stepfather-in-law, had been the most charismatic man he’d ever met, rivalled only by Solomon Burke. Oh, and there was a version of “I Live on a Battlefield”, which he’d written with Paul Carrack, given the full treatment by Diana Ross — “Turn that kitchen sink up a little louder!”

He talked about moving to Nashville to write songs with people he’d never met. How they’d start a conversation by asking how you’d got there, which airline, which hotel you were at, whether you’d had a good first night’s sleep, and you’d say, well, the people in the next room seemed to be having a party all night, and they’d say, oh, what room were they in? And you’d say, um, 706, I think… and they’d start writing straight away and there was the song: “There’s party in room 706…”

My favourite moment came after he was asked whether he’d like to produce a record with Cliff Richard. No, he said. Maybe once. Not now. Then he mentioned one project that never came off. “I had the idea to take Peters and Lee,” he said, “and get them to do ‘At the Dark End of the Street’. Can you imagine that? It would be heartbreaking, wouldn’t it?”

Then he made everybody happy by picking up an acoustic guitar and singing “Cruel to Be Kind”, not just the title number from the biography of the same name but a truly great pop song.

* Will Birch’s Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Work of Nick Lowe is published by Constable.

Another side of Charlie Watts

When a drummer takes temporary leave from an established band, the absence can sometimes make people think harder about the importance of that individual’s contribution. Roy Haynes wasn’t a downgrade in any sense when he depped for Elvin Jones at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1963, but it may have strengthened a recognition of what Elvin had brought — and would bring again — to the John Coltrane Quartet. Ditto Jimmie Nicol’s short stay with the Beatles on a tour of Australasia in the summer of 1964, replacing Ringo Starr, who was having his tonsils removed. (When George Harrison was given the news, he threatened to pull out too: “If Ringo’s not going, then neither am I. You can find two replacements.”)

I thought of those examples while reading this week that Charlie Watts won’t be with the Rolling Stones on their forthcoming US dates. He’s undergoing surgery for an unspecified condition. It’s worth recalling that Charlie was already a Rolling Stone when Haynes replaced Jones and Nicol replaced Starr; as far as I know he has missed not a single one of the band’s live appearances since joining them in January 1963.

Charlie’s adventures outside the band have always been worth following, from the extraordinary big band he brought to Ronnie Scott’s in 1985 to the adventurous and fascinating percussion project with his friend Jim Keltner in 2000. For the last month or so I’ve been listening to an album that happens to be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year: Long Ago & Far Away, in which his quintet — Gerard Presencer (trumpet and flugel), Peter King (alto), Brian Lemon (piano), Dave Green (bass) –and the singer Bernard Fowler are joined by the London Metropolitan Orchestra to perform arrangements by Lemon, King and Presencer of 14 standards from the American songbook.

These are great songs, and they’re handled with the appropriate respect. The opener, George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You”, is even treated to its proper out-of-tempo introduction (what used to be called the verse): “How glad the many millions / Of Annabels and Lillians / Would be / To capture me / But you had such persistence / You wore down my resistance / I fell / And it was swell…”

Fowler, a long-time Stones backing vocalist who has also recorded with Tackhead and Little Axe, pitches his vocals perfectly, somewhere between Bobby Short and Luther Vandross, with a pleasant tone and a well controlled vibrato. His voice rests easily on arrangements which tend to the lush and romantic but never get close to kitsch. The rhythm section is elegantly discreet (you’re hardly aware of Watts’s presence, which is how it should be) and the horns decorate the music perfectly, Presencer with a tone almost as gorgeous as the late, great Joe Wilder’s and King adding a dash of bitters to the smooth cocktail.

No, these fine versions of “Good Morning Heartache” and “What’s New” aren’t going to replace those by Holiday and Sinatra. But the whole thing runs together seamlessly, the arrangers the opportunity to liven things up with “In the Still of the Night”, which borrows its momentum from the version Gil Evans arranged for Charlie Parker, the group joined by the congas of Luis Jardim and the horns playing what sounds like a transcription of part of Bird’s original solo before King peels off into a variation of his own. “I’m in the Mood for Love” is delivered straight until Fowler gives us an extract from King Pleasure’s famous vocalese version of James Moody’s solo, in unison with Green’s pizzicato bass. For me, the only slightly unsatisfactory moment derives from the decision to take Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well” at ballad speed rather than at the insouciant medium-up tempo that best sets off its sophisticated irony.

I was going to write about this album anyway, with a recommendation to those who don’t know it to file it alongside Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely and Holiday’s Lady in Satin, to be played in moments when those two harrowing masterpieces seem too intense. Let’s wish him all the best with the operation, in the hope that we see him back on the bandstand — whether in a stadium or a boîte — before too long.

* Charlie Watts’s Long Ago & Far Away was released in 1996 on the Virgin label. The photograph is from the accompanying booklet, and was taken by Jack English.

Mose in middle age

I’d bought my first Mose Allison record in about 1962. It was an EP on the Esquire label, licensed from Prestige, and it contained all 10 atmospheric piano-trio miniatures making up Back Country Suite, the title of his first album, recorded five years earlier. Allison was clearly aware of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, but he was also steeped in the country blues that he’d heard growing up small-town Mississippi before studying English and philosophy at Louisiana State University. The result was was strong but fine-boned music, light on its feet, sultry as a southern night but as open as a big sky.

By the time I finally got to see him, during one of his many appearances at the Pizza Express in London in the 1980s, he’d moved on. He still sang the songs that had entranced the likes of Georgie Fame and Pete Townshend in the ’60s — his own “Parchman Farm”, Percy Mayfield’s “Lost Mind” and Mercy Dee’s “One Room Country Shack”. But his piano-playing had taken a wild left turn into a territory located somewhere between those staked out by Lennie Tristano and Cecil Taylor. A couple of time during a set he would suddenly rage up and down the keyboard, creating a torrent of two-fisted sound from waves of chromatic runs. Seems unlikely? If it was the antithesis of his early minimalism, it was certainly thrilling. Anyone turning up to hear the back-porch philosopher who sang “Well a young man ain’t nothin’ in the world these days” with such laconic resignation was in for a shock. I’m only sorry that I didn’t get to hear him many more times before his death in 2016, aged 89.

The young Mose could be heard on a 3-CD box set released on Fresh Sound in 2014, a compilation of the six albums he recorded for Prestige between 1957 and 1959: Back Country Suite, Local Color, Young Man Mose, Ramblin’ with Mose Allison, Creek Bank and Autumn Song. They formed the basis of the reputation that persuaded Nesuhi Ertegun to sign him to Atlantic in 1964 and to record 10 albums with him over the next dozen years. Those albums — I Don’t Worry About a Thing, Swingin’ Machine, The Word from Mose, Wild Man on the Loose, Mose Alive!, I’ve Been Doin’ Some Thinkin’, Hello There Universe, Western Man, Mose in Your Ear and Your Mind is on Vacation — have now been coupled with two subsequent recordings for Elektra, Middle Class White Boy and Lessons in Living, in a new 6-CD box.

Seven of the 10 Atlantic albums stay with the trio format, featuring such fine musicians as the drummers Osie Johnson and Paul Motian and the bassists Earl May and Red Mitchell. Two of those trio sets were recorded live, one at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach in 1965 and the other at In Your Ear in Palo Alto five or six years later. The latter album, Mose in Your Ear, contains a track called “Powerhouse”, almost nine minutes long, which perfectly exemplifies the kind of pianistic eruption I mentioned earlier, ranging across almost all significant approaches to jazz pianism — stride, boogie-woogie, barrelhouse, bebop, Monk-to-Cecil angularity — while somehow retaining Allison’s signature.

The same album also has perhaps his best recorded version of Jimmie Davis’s “You Are My Sunshine”, one of the standards he loved to examine over and over again, nudging the tune’s melodic planes until he has reshaped it into something completely his own, an almost total reinvention.

Of the three Atlantic albums in which horns are added to the trio, the 1976 set called Your Mind Is on Vacation is the most interesting and fully realised. With Al Porcino on trumpet, David Sanborn on alto and Joe Farrell on tenor, Allison takes chances with his arrangements. “One of These Days” is a slow altered blues played in the style of a Mingus small band imitating the late-’50s Ray Charles outfit, with enigmatically stretched silences at odd moments. “Fires of Spring” is a sophisticated cabaret song, the sort of thing Fran Landesman used to write, with a brilliant rubato treatment and a conversation-stopper of an ending.

Lessons in Living, recorded live at the Montreux Festival in 1982, is the more interesting of the two Elektra albums, with Jack Bruce on bass and Billy Cobham on drums, both commendably concerned to accompany rather than draw attention to themselves, and there are guest spots from Eric Gale on guitar and Lou Donaldson on alto. A wild up-tempo version of Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” — another old favourite — flirts with a wonderful chaos in the piano interlude, and there’s a perfectly weighted treatment of “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”, in which he dispenses cosmic truth with that wry fatalism.

A lot of Mose, then, but certainly not too much, because he was a true original who work deserves to be brought to the attention of new generations of listeners. After the reissue producer Jordi Puyol’s fine work on the Prestige/Fresh Sound collection, Bob Fisher’s compilation and annotation of this Atlantic/Elektra set is immaculate, as is the stylish package design and artwork by Michael Robson. Now all we need is for someone to compile the eight albums for Blue Note and one for Verve, mostly produced by Ben Sidran, and one for Anti-, supervised by Joe Henry, that represent the balance of his recording career, spanning 1987 to 2010. Not too much to ask, I hope.

* Mose Allison: The Complete Atlantic/Elektra Albums 1962-1983 is on Cherry Red’s Strawberry label.

RIP Jon Hassell 1937-2021

From The Times, 25 November 1981

His tongue on fire

Bob Dylan turns 80 today. I commissioned this ink drawing for an issue of Time Out celebrating Dylan’s arrival to play at Earl’s Court in 1978, his first London shows in a dozen years. Ralph Steadman chose to make his image out of Bob’s words. When I left the editorship a few months later, the staff very kindly acquired the original from Ralph and gave it to me as a leaving present. As you might imagine, it’s a precious possession, although not quite as precious as all the songs Bob has placed in the common memory over the past six decades. Many happy returns to him.

Many accents, one voice

Just about the first thing I discovered when I began a three-year term as artistic director of Berlin’s historic jazz festival in 2015 was that I would be required to explain myself. More specifically, I would be asked to describe my “concept”. This was a little disconcerting since I didn’t really have one, at least not in any worked-out form.

What I came up with, thinking on my feet, was a definition applicable to the kind of festival I wanted to make. “Jazz,” I told my inquisitors, “is any music that couldn’t exist if jazz hadn’t existed.”

I’ve never been quite sure whether I invented that aphorism simply out of expediency, in order to cover myself and to explain some of the music I wanted to present, in which the elements of traditional forms of jazz were sometimes attentuated or modified almost to invisibility. Eventually I decided that I believed it enough to feel comfortable about using it whenever it was necessary to justify something.

In my first year, the best example was provided by Divan of the Continents, a 22-piece band jointly led by Cymin Samawatie, a singer born in Berlin to Iranian parents, and Ketan Bhatti, a drummer born in India. Both graduates of jazz courses at Berlin’s University of the Arts (the UdK), together they had devised an ambitious project to bring together a large ensemble of locally based musicians from various ethnic backgrounds, from the principal viola-player of the Berlin Philharmonic and an English free-jazz trombonist to virtuosos of the sheng, the oud, the ney, the kanun and the koto. The aim was to work at creating music which honoured the essence of each player’s respective genre while (and this is the important bit) aiming for something genuinely new. What it would not be was an example of musical tourism. It wouldn’t be obviously “jazz”, either. But you could even see this as being a modern version of jazz’s origin story, in which elements of African and European musics came together to form a hybrid that took on a life of its own.

Since the music was complex, it seemed right to arrange for them to have three days of rehearsals in the small concert hall at the UdK’s Jazz Institute, open to students and the public. Then, on the festival’s closing night, they gave a performance in the 1,000-seater hall of the Berliner Festspiele, leading off a bill completed by Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Four Blokes and Ambrose Akinmusire’s quartet with the singer Theo Bleckmann. It was, I think, a success: the audience gave every appearance of being intrigued, particularly by the settings of poetry sung by Samawatie and two other female singers.

Now Samawatie and Bhatti have made an album of that music, and other pieces, with an ensemble of similar size and instrumentation, containing about half the original personnel. In the meantime, the project been retitled: the album is called Trickster Orchestra. But the concept is the same, and the time spent in preparation has resulted in something rather extraordinary: a music in which the sheng of Wu Wei and the viola of Martin Stegner have equal weight, in which the double bass of Ralf Schwarz can emerge with a walking 4/4 line and the various items of tuned percussion can set up rhythm patterns reminiscent of Steve Reich. The words of the songs range from Psalm 130 to the Sufi poet Rumi and the contemporary poet Efe Duvan, and are sung in Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic and Turkish. The lyricism is always poised and sometimes swooning, but the serenity can be punctured by a fusillade of drums, subtly coloured by electronics.

It’s not a mosaic, but it is a kaleidoscope. Each musician retains her or his own tuning and vocabulary. The various tones, textures and idiomatic accents are overlapped, juxtaposed and filtered through each other, creating something much more interesting than a flavourless fusion. I think it would have interested the founder of Berlin’s jazz festival, the late Joachim-Ernst Berendt, a man with a strong belief in the potential value of opening jazz up to new relationships with the music of other cultures. Trickster Orchestra is an impressive example of where that kind of thinking has led, giving musicians of high skill and inquiring minds the chance to find new paths.

* Trickster Orchestra by Cymin Samawatie and Ketan Bhatti is out now on the ECM label. The photograph of Bassem Alhouri (kanun), Naoko Kikuchi (koto) and Ralf Schwarz (bass) is from their 2015 concert in Berlin and was taken by Camille Blake.

The sound of two

Daniel Cano is a Spanish trumpeter who was born in Huelva in 1983 and has lived in London since 2014. Doug Sides is an American drummer who was born in Los Angeles in 1942, moved to Europe in 1989 and now lives, improbably enough, in Ramsgate, a fishing and ferry port on the eastern tip of Kent. This week they released a four-track digital EP called Duplexity.

It slots into the modern tradition of trumpet-and-drums duets stretching back to Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, taking in Bobby Bradford and John Stevens and going all the way to Eyebrow, the contemporary Bristol-based pair of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens. If it reminds me of anything, it’s of the best parts of the duo concert by Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie at the Maison de la Culture de Seine Saint-Denis, released as Max + Dizzy: Paris 1989 by A&M. That’s an album which came a little too late in the careers of two great men, making you wish they’d done it 30 or 40 years earlier, when the fires were burning brightest. Duplexity, by contrast, seems to have been made at exactly the right time.

Cano, whose involvements as a leader and a sideman include membership of the London Improvisers Orchestra, studied at the conservatoire in San Sebastián. His groups — including an Ornette Coleman tribute band — have won festival prizes. Sides studied at the University of South California, New York University and Berklee College in Boston, where he was taught by the great Alan Dawson, a mentor of Tony Williams. Over a long career which featured an early stint as the house drummer at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, he has played with Illinois Jacquet, John Handy, Teddy Edwards, Phineas Newborn, Bobby Hutcherson, Abbey Lincoln and many others.

Recorded last October at Big Jelly Studios in Ramsgate, Duplexity is a fine showcase for the evidently strong relationship between a trumpeter whose warm, bright open tone evokes the hard-bop masters of the ’50s and ’60s and a drummer with a light touch and a supple sense of swing. Restricted means, in terms of instrumentation, but the result is a rich experience with no sense of austerity — or of overplaying to fill the spaces.

Trajectories and densities are chosen to make the most of the available resources. The session feels informal and spontaneous, with the rough edges left in. Two of the pieces were composed by Sides and two by Cano, and none of them, ranging from four and a half to six minutes, outstays its welcome. Most of all, it’s good to hear two musicians from different generations and of such diverse backgrounds revelling in the common language.

* Duplexity is available at www.danielcanomusic.bandcamp.com (click on the track “Perpetual Motion” to see a video). Cano and Sides will perform together in a livestream from Ronnie Scott’s Club on April 15: http://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/scheduledaily/2021/April/15. The photograph is by Martin Goodsmith.

The Weather Station live from Toronto

A year to the day since I was last able to see musicians performing in person, the Weather Station’s livestreamed concert from Toronto on Thursday provided a reminder of what’s been missing. Tamara Lindeman and her musicians were performing the 10 songs from her new album, Ignorance, shuffled in order but retaining the enigmatic allure that I wrote about in the March issue of Uncut.

I won’t repeat what I said in that review, except to note that the arrival of Marcus Paquin as Lindeman’s co-producer has brought a new perspective to her songs, which are now driven less — not at all, in fact — by strummed or finger-picked acoustic guitars and more by drums and bass, and decorated by subtle use of keyboards, electronics and wind instruments (and, on the album, a string trio). The new songs confront loss, both intimate and global: the departure of a lover, the disappearance of a species. These concerns, with their very different time-scales, are like messages lightly inscribed on two transparent sheets. They slide over each other, clarifying or converging, a pair of palimpsests coming in and out of focus over the band’s momentum.

It was a treat to be able to watch her and the band tackling this fascinating material. The live performance — in Toronto’s Revolution Recording Studios — turned out to emphasise the similarities rather than the differences between the songs, making the whole thing feel satisfyingly coherent. I was particularly struck by the restless swells of “Loss”, Christine Bourgie’s fine guitar solo on “Subdivisions”, the spellbound poise of “Trust”, the galloping rhythm of “Heart”, and the closing free-ish jam between Brodie West’s alto saxophone and Lindeman’s piano on “Robber”, where Ben Whiteley’s bass guitar and Kieran Adams’s drums conjured something like an alt-rock version of one of Norman Whitfield’s Temptations epics. (Here’s the album version of “Robbery”, in case you haven’t heard it.) The other musicians were Johnny Spence (piano), Will Kidman (guitar, keyboards), Ryan Driver (flute), Philippe Melanson and Evan Cartwright (percussion) and Felicity Williams, whose voice shadowed Lindman’s to particularly good effect on “Heart”.

Perfect sound (by Brenndan McGuire) and a restrained approach to lighting (Louise Simpson) and camerawork (Lulu Wei) ensured that the qualities which make the Weather Station so special were allowed to speak. In a little prologue, a just-recognisable Lindeman lay on a pebble beach under a sheet, reading a book, while a dancer wheeled and turned in the distance. We were taken back to that setting at half-time, just where you’d be turning over a vinyl album, and again at the very end, for Lindeman to read short verses by the American poet Ed Roberson. Nicely done, but the real pleasure was in witnessing her own poetry brought to life by musicians, with masks but no headphones or baffles, playing together in real time, so beautifully.