Frome Festival is in full swing. To call it a smorgasboard may be underplaying it. I can’t make the bee-keeping taster on Thursday afternoon and am genuinely gutted it looks like I won’t make the Iain Ballamy/ Huw Warren duo on Sunday 9th (I’m noticing how normal it seems for something so good to be in the festival programme). There’s something else a bit special going on later in the week however, that adds yet another dimension to proceedings: Two nights, six (or is it seven) – count ’em! – acts from the Loop Collective at Frome’s Silk Mill. Formed over a decade ago by some of the most exciting young players on the London scene at the time, the collective has spawned dozens of bands and projects and its members have gone on to establish international reputations. Much of the music defies categorisation, but improvisation, creative exploration, blending of influences and a ‘jazz sensibility’ are probably constant threads.
Dave Smith, a founder member and now resident in Frome has pulled together the two nights. His personal CV has Robert Plant’s current band on it as well as plenty of experimental electronica and the band Outhouse (a version of their music appears on the second night, Friday 14th). Thursday 13th sees a set from Kit Downes and Tom Challenger (harmoniums and sax) a project that originated through improvised duo performances of sax and church organs they call Vyamanikal. Splice (laptops, trumpet sax and Dave on drums) and a solo set from vibes supremo Jim Hart. Friday 14th has Fofoulah vs Outhouse preceded by an outfit call Primitive London (a hip-hop and DJ influenced set) and bass, laptop sax duo Rills and Courses. There’ll be a finale involving remixes of samples from the two nights’ performances. Its sure to be something a bit special then: Unpredictable, mind expanding, absorbing and good fun. Tickets here and here
Footnote: Dave Smith was interviewed by London Jazz News about this happening here
The Cloudmakers touched down at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday bringing a healthy crowd out to experience the dense thickets of rhythm, mazy themes and explosive playing of the expanded trio. Vibes man and composer Jim Hart, drummer Dave Smith and getting to be a Hen and Chicken regular, Michael Janisch on bass are joined by Hannes Riepler on guitar and Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto and clarinet for their pretty extensive current tour.
This was music with a lot going on. Two in one began to seem like a theme. A piece combining elements of All the Things You Are and Ornithology had been preceded by Travelling Pulse Somewhere North of Ghana, built around a complex rythmn but referencing colder Nordic climes. The second set started with The Road for Ed a demented, wonky samba-like groove overlayed with a slow moving free-boppish theme. It spiralled off into urgent freeblowing with Hoang and then flipped back to the hurtling groove behind a blistering vibes workout.
Watching Janisch look first at Smith, then Hart with a quiet smile as rockets of rythmn seem to pass between them summed something about the gig up. They were individually and in combination electrifying, Hart sublimely fluid and inventive with Smith seeming to catch every accent and kick almost before it happened.
Hoang was a revelation. From unearthly squawks, honks and atmospheric squeals to percussive and dramatic blowing, Harts writing gave him plenty of action. Riepler was adding ghostly textures and atmosphere as often as digging in. It wasn’t all tumult. Golden‘s simple motif, emerging from a meditative Riepler introduction swelled to an anthemic climax. The gig closed with Back Home, full of yearning and shimmering atmosphere.
The quintet are individually top drawer players. Hart’s writing and their empathy meshes them into a formidable unit.
Pic Tim Dickeson
There was something about the way Jim Hart took his jacket off that seemed to say ‘right, now we are really getting down to business’. The band launched into ‘Bird Brain’ and it was clear why the metaphoric rolling up of sleeves was necessary. Lightening fragments of boppish phrases were fired off at odd intervals, frequently doubled by the well prepared Hart and Tori Freestone on tenor cutting across stuttering rythmns from the locked bass and drums of Jaspar Hoiby and Dale Hamblett. It was adrenalin rush stuff and, as he did on several occasions during the evening, Jim Hart worked some magic that despite the frenetic action from the band , steadily built the intensity and excitement even further during his solo. There was much to admire about this gig. Ivo Neame’s writing is complex, multi layered and detailed. There’s plenty to grab the attention first time round and lots to return to on repeated listens (yup, we bought the CD), a wonky groove and ear tweaking melodic fragments are never far away but they appear and fade creating different moods. The playing of each of these fine musicians was uniformly dazzling. The standouts on this evening were for me the ensemble and some individual moments of brain melting brilliance. As the compositions ebbed and flowed, the band managed the trick of sounding like they were playing freely, casually throwing in improvised phrases here, barking staccato rhythms there; the fact that many of the phrase were doubled or harmonised signalled it was often anything but casual. This was a high wire act with everyone playing their part.
It wasn’t a completely even performance. Bird Brain in the first set really turned the heat up after “American Jesus’ and and the attractive ‘Moonbathing’ had prepared us for the range of textures in the sound. Ivo Neame seemed to really lift off in ‘Owl of Me’ in the second set, his solo one of those breathtaking moments; flurries of phrases and abstract chords overlapping until a strong melodic logic appeared like mist parting and dazzling runs and crescendos carried us along. Jim Hart supplied yet another in the closer ‘Yatra’ repeated figures bringing out the latin character and whirlwind riffs knocking the breath out of us. ‘He’s ***** brilliant’ someone whispered in my ear at the climax. Nicely put. What a great start to Ian Storrer’s season at the Hen and Chicken. It wasn’t just me. Jon Turney lapped it up too. There’s more to come with the quality looking equally high. Full details of the season here