We'd heard their records, and knew they were up for an award: Think Of One came trailing clouds of glory for their Union Chapel appearance. And in Abdul Tee-Jay, they had what sounded like an ideal warm-up act: palm-wine music from Sierra Leone, cross-fertilised with Caribbean influences in London.
After a thumb-piano intro, Tee-Jay was joined by Tess Deloes and Alimany Kamara for an acoustic set where the singing was sweet, and the guitar-picking full of West African subtlety. But a warm-up this was not. When, after 15 minutes, Tee-Jay shouted "Are you enjoying it?", the response was a watery "yes" like the bleating of distant sheep. The miking was muddy, and no spark flew between stage and pews - there was no illusion that we were anywhere but in a draughty church. The CD I bought in the interval - Palm Wine A Go-Go (Far Side) - rammed home the point: this band can only work its magic in a small, convivial space.
The ratty-looking jokers comprising Think Of One have made a trademark of instrumental wit, notably by playing on the comic contrast between clarinet-and-sax and elephantine tuba. We got traces of that, but none of the boundary-crossing cleverness that may earn this Antwerp group a gong. Previewing their Brazilian CD Chuva Em Po, they did a rumba and a samba, but in the Union Chapel's deafening miasma those numbers just merged into an all-purpose stomp. One wonders what Andy Kershaw will make of this miserable evening, when he airs excerpts on 22 February.
In a thin week for world music, the event that stood out was Lucy Duran's World Routes two-parter on the Greek stuff you don't hear in your average souvlaki house: these programmes qualify as "concerts" thanks to their post-broadcast accessibility on the internet. First Duran went in search of instrumental and vocal styles in the mountains of Epirus, and came back with recordings of heart-stopping beauty (and remarkable similarity to music I recently found over the border in Albania). She showed how the mighty clarinet - locally known as the clarino - had virtually extinguished the gentler flute and fiddle. But she extracted from her clarino maestro the admission that, while he appreciated the size of the audience he could command with amplification, that wasn't how he wanted his music to be heard. Like so many other musicians these days, he's trying to recapture the purity of acoustic sound.
If she didn't find the same transcendence down in Crete, her players there did extract great charm from the sweet-toned three-string "lyra" fiddle as it accompanied graceful, Byzantine-derived songs. She showed how this instrument apes the ancient Cretan bagpipes, whose liquid warble she tracked to a mountain lair.Reuse content