Review: Necessary Praxis / Servant Jazz Quarters

Marjolaine Charbin. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved


Necessary Praxis
(Servant Jazz Quarters, 29 May 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


I went for the first time to one of Dalston's best kept secrets on the jazz improv circuit, Servant Jazz Quarters, to check out the latest in the Necessary Praxis series, where improvisers are invited to perform together - on this occasion David Toop (electronics / various), Adam Linson (double bass), Jennifer Allum (violin) and Marjolaine Charbin (piano) playing as an ensemble for the first time. As the organisers say, "Necessary Praxis draws on all of the London scene to produce concerts which provide a broad glimpse to the uninitiated, as well as plenty of food for thought to regulars ... courtesy of mainstay figures alongside unpredictable and more emerging London improvisors."

The venue, situated a stone's throw from the Vortex and Cafe Oto, and now open for a year and a half is home to a range of entertainment, and was well suited to the music. It is comfortably small-scale. The upstairs bar serves a flowery, flavoursome house beer and downstairs, with room for around 40, is the stage area which can be seen from above through the perspex ceiling, which also lets in the early evening light. There is a quirky 70s interior design feel to the decor, which has been described as 'bohemian'.

The acoustics are excellent. Fronting on to the tiny Bradbury Street there is little extraneous traffic noise. In fact, the air-con, before it was switched off, made more sound than the musicians as their engaging repertoire was so quiet. This collaboration worked through two sets with such a light touch that the sensitivity of the room's acoustics was essential. Sitting on a leather sofa, an abrupt move would have competed with that coming from the stage. Flipping the pages of a notebook was also a non-starter.

The concentrated dialogue bounced lightly. There was a sense of shared control in the fashioning of the incremental soundscape, a subtle mix of the incidental and the coincidental. Toop, behind a laptop, embroidered wispy, tumbling undercurrents, and scattered fragments by the mic. A few juddering, scorched earth moments were interjected and rapidly dissipated. Charbin drew invisible thread through the prepared, electronically connected piano and made tactile sonic connections. Vinson and Allum, in confirmed acoustic mode, nurtured tangible sound, subjecting their stringed instruments to an almost microscopic exploration in wresting perceptible sound from them. This was one for listening and then hearing.

It will be interesting to see how other ensembles take advantage of the benefits of the micro-scale and comfort of this valuable addition to the scene, in the words of the SJQ, "as we start to look towards the next 50 years of this uncompromising and relentless musical activity."

David Toop - electronics / various
Adam Linson - double bass
Jennifer Allum - violin
Marjolaine Charbin - piano

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