Review: Tim Hodgkinson / Dominic Lash / Paul Lytton / Denman Maroney at Vortex

Maroney, Hodgkinson, Lash and Lytton at Vortex
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Tim Hodgkinson, Dominic Lash, Paul Lytton, Denman Maroney
(Vortex, 6 January 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

This Vortex concert marked a welcome return to Dalston for the trio of New York-based pianist, Denman Maroney, with leading British improvisers Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and Dominic Lash on contrabass, augmented on this occasion by master percussionist Paul Lytton.

Maroney's unending journey to explore the potential of the piano, which he terms 'hyperpiano', combines the extension of Cage's concept of the prepared piano with conventional techniques and his own technical innovations which take him into the body of the instrument where he directly engages with the wires and applies a variety of implements to coax different rhythms and tonalities from its interior.

A veteran of New York's Roulette club where he's performed since the early 80s, he and Lash met at the Music Omi foundation in 2010, then reconvened the next year at John Zorn's The Stone venue with Hodgkinson, and again as a trio at Cafe Oto in 2012. I was privileged to write the liner notes and provide the drawings for the Maroney/Lash CD, 'All Strung Out' that ensued.

This was a quartet in close accord, that gave expression to its preoccupations in the ebbs and flows of what Maroney referred to, when we talked in the interval, as "a nice conversation", that dwelt in regions of light sonic overlays, meshed confluences and an organic, atmospheric spatiality. Underscored by a complex, shared sensibility, the changing dialogue was characterised variously by a fast moving, bagatelle-like unpredictability, through-the-looking-glass, topsy-turvey disorientations and a solid confidence in their abilities to combine the tentative with the assured.

There was no single driver - the responsibility for the changing shape of the sonic cocoon was evenly distributed between the musicians, and the shifts in direction, pace and textural transparency were absorbing. The reflection in the lid of the Vortex's fine Steinway of Maroney's hands as they traversed the strings, behind Hodgkinson, made fascinating viewing as the micro-moods changed.

Their commitment was to weave sonic areas of 'hardly sounds', if I can call them that, bouncing off well-tuned acoustic vocabularies with evocative and imaginative agendas, rather than conventional melodic sequences - although those were not outside their remit, either.

Flying deep in space, hints of the ominous subsided and reappeared like turns in the weather. Lash drove the bow behind the fretboard, offered chunky slaps and flighty rhythmic runs along the strings. Behind a formidable bank of percussion devices, including a case with a distressed surface and a small tape cross that could have been a Josef Beuys collage, Lytton chipped and tapped, and amassed shimmering walls of percussive hyperactivity that paralleled Maroney's hyperpianistic excursions. Hodgkinson, seldom without a faint smile, enjoying each sonic twist, flipped between clarinets, hand-muted a shortened instrument, found breathy momentum by taking off a mouthpiece, and kept up the search for incremental sounds and calls without respite.

With something of the the mechanical open-endedness of a Jean Tinguely sculpture, and the delicacy of Paul Klee's 'Twittering Machine', theirs was an ecology that maintained a finely balanced equilibrium throughout - a great start to 2014.

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