Bristol Composers Collective Performance, Wardrobe Theatre, Monday 17th February

After gate-crashing the Collective’s informal meeting last week, the lure of this week’s performance was strong. They’d had a last minute change of plans as Jake McMurchie, originally scheduled to lead the session, was away on Get the Blessing duties.  Most of what transpired is summarised here on Jazzwise’s site. Intimate probably underplays the atmosphere. When all the assembled musicians clambered on stage for a final, genuinely unscripted and spontaneous composition, those of us left in the audience were outnumbered.  There were a handful of  different contributors of compositions; Keven Figes, Nick Dover, Jeff Spencer, Greg Cordez, Mike Willox – his absence notwithstanding!  Some had come with sketches that the band BCC_Everyoneon stage turned into a ‘moment’ . Greg Cordez arrived with a couple of sections of harmony hastily sketched out on a till roll – ‘this is what my day dream sounds like’ ; that turned out to be a resonant, singing, sighing folky ballad full a melancholic peacefulness expressed in breathy soaring phrases from saxes.  Jeff Spencer’s Anti Freeze was the result of  a ‘Sarasate moment’ he explained; this involved leaping out of bed in the middle of the night to scribble an idea down as the Spanish violinist/ composer was reputed to have down. The result, a series of instructions along the lines of “.. do this sort of thing, and when the sax does something, you do the next sort of thing…” produced the most satisfying freely improvised piece of the evening with real shape and drama.   It was all great fun, hugely entertaining and wonderful music making.  These regular sessions deserve a bigger audience even if the bigger pay off in the long run may be the projects with which this eclectic bunch of musicians are involved.

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Bristol Composers Collective go Ensemble, Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol, Monday 11th November

What a stroke of inspiration: The packed stage (was it eleven or twelve of the collective up there?), instruments stilled, reduced to a choir with just composer Dan Messore’s Metheney-esque guitar quietly etching out the hymn like melody of ‘Passing Vision’ underneath layers of vocal harmony. After an action packed evening it was a magical way to close.

A relatively new venture, the Composers Collective have held three or four sessions previously, performing short sets of one or the other of the gradually expanding membership’s original music.  Making music and working together is the priority. Self promotion and publicity have come a poor second. This was my first taster of what is emerging having found out about a couple of previous sessions after they happened and this one proved rather special.  For the occasion the pattern had changed a bit and the rough rules seemed to be: select your band/ ensemble for the occasion from the members (newly launched website tells us who most of them are), write/ arrange original music for them, preferably rehearse, definitely perform.  Given the quality of players and writers on that list it’s a recipe for something special, the prospect of a few under rehearsed rough edges only adding to the high wire act thrills and so it proved to be with no holding back on the complexity and drama of the writing.

The second half of the evening featured the collective as an ‘orchestra’ with a small string section (double bass, cello, violin) as well as the full rythmn section (bass, drums, guitar, keyboards) and a frontline shuffling all manner of reed instruments and flutes and judicious use of effects. A simple flowing motif on guitar pegged by a sparse bass riff introduced Will Harris’ Damp Squib  before a gorgeous pallete of sound coloured a soaring melody that launched an impassioned

The collective dig into Will Harris' 'Damp Squib'

The collective dig into Will Harris’ ‘Damp Squib’

solo from Jake McMurchie on tenor.  Jim Blomfield stripped the ensemble back to a mere six piece but he certainly made them work. If this wardrobe had any doors, they’d have been kicked open by his ‘Pregnant Pause’. Odd time fragments and riffs played variously and separately by Kevin Figes on baritone, Nick Dover on tenor, McMurchie now switched to soprano until a crackling funky groove gradually merged and locked into a rocking pulse with a few handbrake turns between solos and switches to solo riffs before screeching to a halt with a tumbling riff from the keyboard. That raised the roof before Dan Messore’s ‘Passing Vision’ charmed us out of the door.

The first half had been a short set from ‘the slightly more established’ Kevin Figes Octet (two rehearsals and one previous performance apparently) with double drums including Mark Whitlam who was a fixture for the evening, double vocals from Emily Wright and Cathy Jones as well as a more regular front-line and rhythm section. ‘Loft Space’ had an epic feel to it with a slower section all rousing melody and jazzy prog rock anthem  before the angular grooves and fiery soloing kicked in.

If all that emerged from this collective was nights like this giving the creative muscles of the group the opportunity to work out and experiment, then it will surely have been worth it. What a delight it was just to listen and watch. But keep an eye on this.  Put such a rich mix of talent and creativity together and who knows what surprises and new directions will emerge. If the word spreads much more, the Wardrobe may need an extension. The next session is January, the website is www.bristolcomposerscollective.co.uk/ and there’s a twitter feed @BristolNewSound.