Review: A right rivetting reed

Jazz: London Saxophonic with Evan Parker; St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol
Jazz: London Saxophonic with Evan Parker

St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol

While the venue for this concert pre-dated its principal instrument, the saxophone, by a number of years, together they sounded like a marriage made in heaven. Bass and baritone parps proved suitably fruity, while in quieter moments the long drawn out sighs of tenor, alto and soprano were as subtle as the patterning of cold breath against a windowpane. As for free jazz horn-man Evan Parker - the wild card of the evening - the infinite cycle of notes he produced through circular breathing on his soprano sax sounded like the squeak of rusty axles in a railway yard faraway, and the effect was both strange and wonderful.

Any group of sax-players brave enough to band together to the power of ten and suffer the inevitable copy-lines of "Sax Appeal" and "The Joy of Sax", deserves every break they can get; but the dectet of saxophones plus piano and bass guitar that is London Saxophonic is staggeringly good already. In a first half of Michael Nyman compositions the group propelled the music forwards with an eminently suitable mixture of dry wit and brute force (yet far less harsh than the amplified Nyman Band itself, from which the group borrows a number of players), making two short themes from the soundtrack for the film The Draughtsman's Contract seem even better than one remembered. Two further film pieces, The Infinite Complexity of Christmas, and Outside Looking In, from Carrington, showcased a softer, more Romantic Nyman, with far less "baroque and roll" than usual.

In the second half, the Apollo Saxophone Quartet - a division of the larger band - followed a short piece by Michael Torke with a movement, "Road Rage", from a longer work entitled Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre by the jazz saxophonist Iain Ballamy. A barrel of laughs for a minute or so, with - you guessed it - lots of honking and parping noises, the music was rescued by the RAC-style recovery service of a swift resolution.

Then it was time for Evan Parker, who came on stage, put his mouth to the reed of his sax and started to blow. He was still on the same breath twenty minutes later, with the massed saxes of the band joining in to produce an extraordinary ringing-in-the-ear effect that precipitated a noisy exit from one concert-goer and her group of children. As for the rest of us, we loved it all, especially the ringing in the ears - but listeners to the live recording will have to cope with the sound of heavy footsteps clumping down the stairs across their speakers.

For the finale the whole band, Parker and drummer Tony Orrell re-grouped for two East European folk tunes in which the keening wails of eleven saxes sounded like an Arvo Part choir jamming with the Bulgarian National Assembly of Throat Singers. Yes it was that good.

An album of London Saxophonic playing Michael Nyman is due out this summer on Tring Records.

Phil Johnson

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