Jazz: Now that's what I call culture shock

Moire Music African Drum Orchestra Salisbury Festival Colin Towns' Mask Orchestra Bath Festival

Drawn in by a photo in the festival programme of a smiling-faced black man beating a big drum, many of the full house at Salisbury Arts Centre had perhaps come in the hope of seeing a percussive version of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. What they got from Moire Music African Drum Orchestra was more funk than folk: an avant-garde amalgam of Ornette Coleman-style saxophone frenzy and trance-inducing rhythms driven by four African drummers and a finger-popping electric bassist. When it became apparent that Trevor Watts, the saxophone player and leader of the band, was white and looks like a cross between Professor Branestawm and an old-school polytechnic lecturer, it could only have added to the already heavy air of culture shock. A few brave members of the audience tried a bit of Isadora Duncan interpretative dancing, but most sat immobile in their seats as if wondering what they had let themselves in for.

The group, which Watts has led for many years, follows a method that is, on the face of it, simple but nevertheless devastatingly effective. As the chorus beat hand-drums of various shapes and sizes with flesh or sticks, Watts on alto or soprano sax wails over the top, while both the bassist and a conventional kit drummer take up the slack in between, providing a kind of funky commentary on the main action. Once a groove is set in motion, it could theoretically go on for days, like the music of the trance musicians from Morocco whom the Rolling Stones's Brian Jones helped to popularise in the late 1960s. No wonder some of the audience sneaked the odd mid-trance look at their watches.

But this wasn't a classic Moire Music performance. For a start, the sound balance was too Eurocentric (the sound man was wearing a Prodigy T-shirt; a bad omen from t he start), picking out Watts as the foreground and relegating the drummers to the back. In order to get those moire patterns shifting about, you really need to experience an equally weighted barrage of noise, so that you don't just hear the drums but feel them in your bones. The audience's world- music expectations might have had something to do with it too. When Watts mentioned the band's album for ECM (A Wider Embrace, and very good too), someone shouted out "Bah!" After a moment of shock, Watts deadpanned back, in perfect Ronnie Scott style, "Do I know you?" All in all, it may have been a case of jazz by any other name not sounding as sweet.

Last Sunday, at the Bath Festival Jazz Weekend, the big bands came back. The 17 members of Colin Towns' Mask Orchestra even wear matching blue shirts which blend in with the illustrations on both the back projections and those cardboard shield things that stand in front of the players. For British big bands these days - where the possibility that the musicians might wear shirts at all is usually as much as the bandleader can hope for - it's amazingly organised, with everything cunningly themed to match Colin Towns's blue suede shoes and the cover of the band's new album (Dreaming Man in Blue Suede Shoes).

The music doesn't let the shirts down either. Dense, multi-layered orchestrations are punched out by a cast of some of the best British players available, and the vocalist Maria Pia de Vito emotes Towns's own literate lyrics most effectively. It's not even subsidised, other than by Towns himself, who pays for his hobby by writing film and television soundtracks. That the results include both Our Friends in the North and a great big band seems almost more than we deserve.

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence