One of the most interesting developments in adult rock and jazz has been the movement away from ‘notes’ and towards textures, timbres and treatments (see recent blog on 01.12.2011). Those who eschew that area and deal in the simpler, older acoustic realm of melody and harmony may appear, in relief, somewhat old-fashioned. Before their recent gig at the 606 Club in London’s Chelsea, I was a whisker apprehensive. Was this going to be a note-a-thon? They use a lot of notes, certainly, and some chords you can’t spell, but any concern I may have had in that respect evaporated with the sheer small-room velocity and dynamic hard-ball of the trio.
Their strengths are both compositional and improvisational. The compositions – particularly Garland’s ‘One Morning’ and Simcock’s ‘Barber’s Blues’ – inspired by a Samuel Barber piece he struggled with as a student at the elite Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester UK – are beginning to adopt the episodic form of small classical miniatures from which at any minute might leap a fully orchestrated movement for large ensemble. All three are world class improvisors.
It’s not hard to see why Sirkis’ is in much demand in this environment. His kit – mirroring the compositional aspect of the group – abandons much of jazz’ standard legacy. Gone are toms, snare drum and sticks, replaced by three frame drums, hang-drum, bass Udu struck with hands or light egg-whisk beater-like items called Blaststicks or Hot Rods. He’s only got to fall over this instrument to sound different. Sirkis is a master at multi-metre intensity at pianissimo dynamic; his frame-drum sound is exotic and connected to another place and from another time. His touch is light; alternately fire and air. The mellifluous timbre of the hang-drum is exactly the sort of sound I was trying to extract from my reluctant electronic kit two decades ago. His understated support on the Welsh song Tawel Nawr was a master-class in rubato playing.
The absence of bass is a voluntary constraint presumably adopted on musical grounds. My sense was that Simcock, although prodigiously equipped with technical facility to deal with any constraints, felt too often that he had to provide the sort of lower-end support traditionally assigned the bass, to the detriment of a sense of unhurried melodic and harmonic development that he’s so good at when that function is adequately taken care of. Garland’s bass clarinet occasionally stepped in to provide superb growling support, but I’m an old-fashioned guy who loves an old-fashioned bass.
I never write about bands if I can possibly resist putting finger to keyboard. Lighthouse are irresistible. Hunt down their April release on the ACT label – called simply ‘Lighthouse’ – at www.bashorecords.com or one of those Amazon-type places. www.triolighthouse.com