Review: Brother Face at the Vortex

Liam Noble


Brother Face
(Vortex. Friday 8th November 2013. Review by Rob Edgar)


“Now is the bit where you stop talking and we start playing” said pianist Liam Noble as he took to the stage with his group Brother Face. It was the last gig of a 7-date tour with a super-group featuring Shabaka Hutchings (clarinet/sax), Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Dave Whitford (bass), and Dave Wickins (drums).

Noble is an intensely thoughtful musician and composer, a look through his tour blog reveals a difference between - the first post: reluctant, unsure “testing the water” - and the later pieces where he throws himself in to the deep end and puts forward some challenging and thoughtful arguments (in fact, by the second post he is already talking about John Cage's Lecture on Nothing).

This is a good way to introduce the music; the first piece (the name wasn't given) blossomed out of a repeated sus chord cell, Noble's solo pitted pentatonic phrases against biting dissonances, parallel motion chords and lightning fast lines up and down the keyboard. The most striking thing about his playing is the way he so often seems to almost get stuck in an idea, refusing to move on until he has explored every possible path it could lead to.

Constantly underpinned by Wickens' masterful control of the rhythm - moving through subtle rhythmic displacement to full grooving swing and back again – Chris Batchelor's first solo was a torrent of speedy lines exploring the full range of the instrument, while Shabaka Hutching's had more of subdued feel, the mood of the music had changed: the backing had fuller, more open consonances and it felt warmer; more cathartic than before.

Most invigorating about this group is the way they manage to take a myriad of diverse influences and work them into music which coheres. Poacher's Pocket had an upbeat almost Highlife theme, making the juxtaposition of Hutching's post-Coltrane frenzied saxophone soloing particularly effective. Clint, had a bitonal theme (Noble providing some almost In Rainbows era Radiohead style piano figurations as the accompaniment) followed by Huching's klezmer sounding solo, Chris Batchelor's squealing, multiphonics (a striking effect aided by a plunger mute – how does he do it?), and a piano solo which grew from sparse secundal chords to furious trills and a Liszt-like arpeggiated fullness.

The arrangements were nothing less than adroit too: A Beautiful Situation (written in memory of Harry Beckett) - had a melody that was perfectly suited to the instruments (the notes were placed in the ideal registers), it really sounded as though there were more than five players on stage. Essays in Idleness began with delicate counterpoint between the clarinet and the trumpet, and, throughout the gig, everything was greatly supported by Whitford's lyrical (and intonationally perfect) playing.

The bit where “you stop talking and we start playing” never really happened; the music was constantly punctuated by sporadic claps, cheers, and people whispering excitedly to each other; never have I seen a more enraptured and enthusiastic audience.

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