Review: Laraaji, Sun Araw at St John Sessions, Hackney

Interior view of St John's, Hackney at the Laraaji, Sun Araw St John Sessions
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Laraaji, Sun Araw
St John Sessions, Hackney, 5 June 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Laraaji's introduction to a worldwide audience was through his discovery by Brian Eno, who was taken by his electric autoharp playing as he walked through a park in New York in 1979, and resulted in the dazzling album, Day of Radiance, the third in Eno's Ambient series on EG.

The last time Laraaji played a major venue in London was in 1987 and he was part of the Opal Evening tour which included performances by Harold Budd and Roger Eno and visuals by Rusell Mills. Laraaji played a short set wearing a white robe. At St Johns he was all in orange with vibrant white floral bursts on his shirt.

Cleveland's Chris Madak (Bee Mask), in the opening set, filled the hall with a carefully modulated, entrancing electronic flow. As he wove a meditative spell with drifting, charged timbres that had affinities with the contemplative areas that Laraaji inhabits, Laraji was up in the balcony (which was closed to the audience), and later, down at the back of the hall, getting his bearings and a feel for the space, its atmosphere and acoustics.

patten was a different proposition. Hyper-active, hunched over guitar and electronica, he drove a pulsating techno surge with high-energy propulsion and rib-shaking bass, accompanied by rapidly morphing, computerised visuals, projected on to the full height of the wall behind the stage.

With Laraaji ensconced at the side of the stage, long-term associates, Sun Araw (Cameron Stallone) and Alex Gray, sitting at tabletops with two orange linear triangles alongside them (symbolising the final three-way interaction that was to follow), launched in to The Play Zone, the soubriquet for the improvised collaboration at the heart of this European tour. Purposeful tentativeness - clicks, rings, and intermittent, random beeps, which could have been sounds from a computer game - gradually crystalised as they defined their route, with Araw adding discreet guitar embellishments. A foot-tapping groove emerged, and successions of overlapping patterns, drones, even an interim locked groove, were set up in their on-stage workshop, as they gave rein to their multi-tasking skills in two brightly unpredictable sequences.

Laraaji joined them for a resounding workout which followed the model of indistinct, exploratory beginnings to develop a strong structure and a clear vision. He added high-pitched vocals, chimes and bells to flowing waves of metallic zither and autoharp in a dialogue that had the trio trading micro-sounds, riding over beds of temporary turbulence, ultimately fashioning a journey to an ethereal, floating zone in the spirit of immersive engagement that is key to Laraaji's audience connection.

The show was presented and broadcast live by Boiler Room TV.

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