Raymond Macdonald and Miguel Carvalhais
(Club Inégales. 22 November 2013. Review by Rob Edgar)
Friday night saw an EFG London Jazz Festival gig at Club Inégales (a place which has built a loyal, intently listening audience). Each night at the club consists of three sets, one with the house band (the Notes Inégales), the second with the guests, and the third with both guests and house band together. (Peter Wiegold has written a profile of it here.)
The guests were Scottish free saxophonist Raymond Macdonald (recently made a professor of Improvisation and Music Psychology at Edinburgh University) and the Portuguese electro-acoustic composer Miguel Carvalhais.
Peter Wiegold started the programme by conducting the Notes band through a series of semi-improvised pieces from a new album (a homage to Miles Davis) recorded in French Switzerland. Désert infini sounded like a more ethereal In a Silent Way: bits of melody floated around the group coming to rest on individual band members before flying off again. The interplay between bassist Ben Markland and drummer Simon Limbrick made for a grooving lounge-esque feel and accordionist Joe Banks took on the spirit of Miles in his solo, with phrases made up of short, sharp bursts.
The pairing of Macdonald and Carvalhais was inspired: Carvalhais laid out subtle loops with crackling resonances, very hypnotic and mesmerising. Macdonald is an intensely thoughtful player - it took almost a minute for any sound to come out after he'd put the sax to his lips – there can be an expectation, with free players, that music will be harsh, abrasive and loud but this was just the opposite: he used circular breathing to deliver a constant stream of delicate, quiet arpeggios utilising the whole range of his instrument in a gentle frenzy. It was the delicacy of the piece that really stood out, like it was constantly on the brink of falling apart but Carvalhais and Macdonald were always able to rescue it.
The third, collaborative set showed a different side to Macdonald, one that is capable of taking control of the direction whilst simultaneously blowing the roof off, he played intense angular notes with touches of reverb here and there. There was a great moment when Macdonald and Banks locked horns musically, playing a game of call and response which lead to ever bigger and more expansive phrases.
Wiegold's conducting takes a kind of less-is-more approach, he makes only a few gestures (preferring to lead from his keyboard) but he is capable of building the group into the most chaotic climaxes only to abruptly shut them off and bring in a theme from earlier in the improv.
At the end of the night, the band was joined by one of Wiegold's Ph.D. students, saxophonist Matt London. He is a fine player, agile, unafraid to take the lead when necessary, but just as happy to sit back.
In its essence, the Notes Inégales' concept is quite simple: their music can to grow out of the most straightforward idea into complex havoc, but a guiding sense of form, structure and strategy is always there.
Raymond Macdonald will be at the Vortex with Marilyn Crispell, launching their new CD Parallel Moments on Friday 6th December at 8:00pm.