Review: Notes Inégales with Benjamin Zephaniah at Club Inégales

Benjamin Zephaniah and Peter Wiegold at Club Inégales

Notes Inégales with Benjamin Zephaniah
(Club Inégales, Euston. 25th July 2013. Review by Rob Edgar)

Thursday night saw the last concert of the summer season at Club Inégales, the intimate bar that is home to the Notes Inégales, a group with a fluid and ever-changing line-up headed by Creative Director Peter Wiegold.

Before a single note had been played, what was immediately striking was the group's set-up: an electric piano/synthesiser cross, a complicated looking guitar rig, possibly the largest ride-cymbal in existence, and a striking sheet of paper on the piano's music stand with odd shapes and mismatched musical symbols, was it a score? Keyboard instructions?

The music is mostly improvised, with Wiegold controlling the flow through a series of simple hand gestures. When the group sat down to play it quickly became clear that this is music that's free but well-regulated; the first piece, Criminal Negligence, started with guitarist Joel Bell improvising a chord sequence, soon picked up by the rest of the band. Snatches of piercing piccolo flute from Rowland Sutherland were complimented by minimal bass grooves by Ben Markland.

The question of that mysterious sheet of paper was answered by the time of the second piece called Stuff; it was a score. Specifically, an open-form score, very much in the manner of Stockhausen's Aus Den Sieben Tagen, or the Klavierstück XI . They started the piece with a movement called Sweet Piano, a descending theme of rolled chords with plenty of notes of added resonance from Martin Butler's piano was foiled by breathy tones and tongue slaps from Sutherland, this time on bass flute. Cyclical, disparate ideas were superimposed on top of each other, the development loosely controlled by Wiegold as the group went through the movements of the piece without a break. Most notable was the movement Rude Bass, which saw Markland repeatedly and aggressively popping the strings of his bass and sliding down the fingerboard.

The last piece of the first set was a South Indian inspired piece in 11/8, based on a modal ostinato it featured a spellbinding piccolo flute solo which tested the limits of what that instrument could do. The piece constantly felt like it was building to some sort of climax but was beautifully frustrated each time.

This evening's special guest was dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah described by Wiegold as “an inventor...human and sane”. Zephaniah is charming, witty and a good orator. His poetry deals with celebrating his heritage, the diversity of modern Britain and challenging inequality. Often, his poems are cyclical and rhythmic. He really connected with the audience with a rendition of his re-working of Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry Be Happy. It was call and response, with the audience gleefully shouting a chorus of “Be Happy”.

The final set saw a teaming-up between the Notes and Zephaniah - Naked featured intense grooving interplay between Markland and drummer Simon Limbrick punctuated by squeals from Torbjorn Hultmark's trumpet (miked up, with reverb) and a riff based on a major scale tri-chord, moved up and and down the keyboard by Wiegold. Zephanias's rhythmic and syncopated prose was matched perfectly by the music.

An interesting evening which provided real food for thought.

Details of the new Autumn series at the club will be released soon.

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