Johnston St Jazz Live Stream, April 23
Our brains have been processing acoustic sounds since our forerunners warily exited the ocean and crawled up the beach. We’ve only heard electronic sounds, on the other hand, for one lifetime. Perhaps that somehow accounts for the delicious disorientation when music morphs between the two.
In the 1960s Mike Nock was among the first jazz players to investigate both electric piano and synthesizer. Just as he has a unique touch on a piano and a distinctive approach to composition, he’s always had a singular instinct for moulding electronic sounds, so the sense of humanity draws you in, rather than the remoteness pushing you away.
A couple of generations younger, Matt Keegan has routinely treated his tenor saxophone and bass clarinet electronically, while also developing warm, full-blooded acoustic sounds. This was the first time that he and Nock had performed as a duo, and their mutual facility for shifting from breath, touch and resonance to switches, knobs and pedals made for endless interactional permutations, as did the segues between free improvisation and extant compositions.
When they were both manipulating electrons at the outset of this hour-long, live-stream concert, the effect was so spooky that one wondered if COVID-19 had itself become a sound-source. Yet the wash of breath going into Keegan’s saxophone warmed the totality, even as the treatment he used left a quietly shrilling aura in the air after he’d finished blowing the note.
Via Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way they migrated to further improvisations and two Nock compositions, the piano now creating Proustian hazes of dreams half-forgotten, and yet so evocative that you could almost smell the melodies. Thickening the scent came Keegan’s opulent tenor or smoky bass clarinet. At one point they met on the wind-swept, deserted streets of Monk’s Round Midnight, and at the end, improbably, on a version of Goodnight Irene that felt as though more was to be milked. Perhaps, too, acoustic and electronic sounds could have been juxtaposed still more throughout what was an enthralling debut, nonetheless.