The Basement, August 6
Improvising should be a high-wire act with no safety net. As the musician creates and responds, micro-decisions are made much faster than normal thinking. Meanwhile instincts for aesthetics and structure are in play, as is experience, technique and character. Put two improvisers together and making music becomes the art of how best to enhance the other’s creation.
This free-improvisation triple bill was a patchy affair. Pianist Mike Nock and drummer Laurance Pike’s first piece began with the musical equivalent of soft-focus photography, an electronic drone creating a mist around which their instruments wafted or suddenly loomed as larger sounds. When the drone subsided the sounds came into sharper relief, and the playing became more staccato and abstract.
This established a pattern in which concrete ideas, whether dramatic, lyrical or dreamy, led to abstraction as a default destination. At one point Nock hit upon a gorgeous melodic motif against which Pike played chattering hi-hat figures, a juxtaposition that, while compromising the ultimate beauty, added an interesting layer of conflict.
Their second piece had occasional stunning convergences of colour and dynamics, the highlight coming when Nock generated massive wave-like, rolling figures, with Pike churning up the white water.
Michaela Davies gave a brief solo set, her arms wired up to receive electrical currents that sent them into accelerated spasms which she used to hit a double bass’s strings with mallets. The results were of more physiological than musical interest.
Finally Showa 44 – guitarist Carl Dewhurst and drummer Simon Barker – began with a shimmering texture like a sonic heat-haze that had a meditative grace, but which broke its on spell by lasting too long. When the transition came it was to the other extreme of a kind of staggering rock with constant metrical deviations, before finally they reached a plateau of explosive energy levels and cyclonic drumming.
Overall this was a night of wonderful musicians spending more time on the safety net than the high wire.