Julien Lage Quintet
(Vortex, May 18th 2011, Second night of two)
This has been the second night in a week when a London audience has proved its musicality. Cleveland Watkiss turned our ramshackle crew on Saturday night into a very respectable chorus indeed, and last night the charismatic 33 year old percussionist from Bogota in Columbia, Tupac Mantilla (above) was getting crisp and accurate responses to the rhythmic challenges he chucked out to a clearly musical Vortex audience.
Mantilla then did a showpiece with Jorge Roeder on bass and Lage on guitar- a version of Neal Hefti's Lil' Darlin'. The only thing I didn't see him hitting last night was that mellifluous structural pillar at the Vortex (Mantilla is probably the ideal person to come back and do a concerto on it!). But he did hit all of the following:
-every possible surface of Roeder's bass, including squeaking the varnish
-his own bum-cheeks (through his jeans, steady on)
-his hollowed normal facial cheeks and an open mouth
-heads, shoulders knees and toes
-hand clapping, producing an extraordinary timbre range
-all parts of a drumkit
Mantilla is an extrovert, yes a crowd pleaser, but a fine percussionist. I just rejoice in the fact that "world music," which used to be a grubby dollars-and-cents business, with as its main purpose to make the executives of large record companies lick their lips, is now developing a tangible musical legacy. I'm excited to see the skills transfer of percussion techniques and sounds from all over the world to new generations of these classically trained players who bring such overwhelming energy to music.
Guitarist and bandleader Julian Lage appears older, but is in fact just 23 years old. He'd already been the subject of a TV documentary at the age of 8. He has awesome guitar technique. There clearly has been a strong and benign modern folk bluegrass influence from Bela Fleck, and from mentor Gary Burton.
But where's he going? What about these compositions depicting something sounding like Farmville? I'm not sure. The "Gladwell" pieces played last night didn't really leave any sort of mark on me. And the closer, a tussle with Dan Blake on tenor left me mainly with the thought - a room like the Vortex already has memories that come off its walls - of how well Phil Robson and Julian Siegel of Partisans do the same kind of sparring, and that Julian, the completely equipped tenor saxophonist - or Mark Turner - would have landed a few more punches on Lage than Blake did last night.
These doubts I think put me in a minority. I sensed everyone else there was loving it.
UPDATE : not everybody - here's Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph