Review: Wedding Music, Dan Nicholls, Monocled Man at Jazz in the Round.

Wedding Music's Hammond at Jazz in the Round
Photo Credit: Chris Elcombe/ BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3

Wedding Music, Dan Nicholls, Monocled Man
(Jazz in the Round. Cockpit Theatre. 30th June. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

A dingy curry house on a sidestreet opposite the Cockpit theatre in Marylebone was a suitably off-key location to begin a “barrier-busting” musical showcase from North London's Loop Collective. It was where many of the performers and punters for the evening's entertainment dined shoulder to shoulder, preparing for an extraordinary evening of music. Once inside the theatre, the sense of anticipation and suspense was heightened by the involvement of the broadcasting team from Jazz on 3, and by the immersive setting: the audience is arranged all around a stage mostly covered by piles of intricately set-up gear for the three performances.

Wedding Music were the first to perform. They raised the tension in the room even further. An unusual organ and saxophone duo, Kit Downes and Tom Challenger explore the sonic range of two versatile instruments. The set opened with the measured tinkling of the solo Hammond, thin to start with, building patiently and reliably, and then falling into silence. The soundscape would be rebuilt, the powerful infinite sustain would rise as the lower register engages, and then the tenor would join, bending notes and jumping on top of the strong organ base.

Ranging from the low vibrations of Dub-step and bold theremin squeals, to more ecclesiastical moments or a 1970s sci-fi soundtrack, the pairing of the breathy, very human sax with the omnipresent organ was beautiful.

Like Wedding Music - composed on Huddersfield University's St Paul's Church organ and adapted to the Hammond organ for smaller/secular venues - the following performance from Dan Nicholls had also been composed and then re-adapted. A composition originally featuring his handmade Kalimba as only a small component, Dan challenged himself to rewrite the piece using only sounds produced from his snaggle-toothed African instrument. The outcome was an enthralling piece using every inch of the instrument to trigger pre-recorded post-processed sounds. While the Kalimba itself was raw and potentially lacking resonance and body, its treatment through his production software gave it an earthy presence. Starting from scratches and taps and developing into complex beats, Nicholls referenced Four Tet and Aphex Twin en route to a Boiler Room-worthy finish.

The evening closed with an extended set from Rory Simmon's Monocled Man. While Dan Nicholls and Wedding Music welcomed the production aspects of their music into their live sets, Monocled Man's live set was a comparatively stripped back version of their recently released album Southern Drawl. The pieces are still full of macabre overtones and full of looping hooks and winding trumpet lines, but live there is more space for Jon Scott's drums to expand and for Chris Montague's jolting guitar to leap through.

Together the three performances presented an impressive front, showing the Loop Collective to be in rude, and still experimental, health. Furthermore, the evenings hosted by Jez Nelson and Jazz on 3 at the Cockpit produce something exhilarating. The knowledge that the session will be broadcast nationwide and archived forever adds to the sense of occasion. The on-stage interviews and also screenings of other Somethin Else films- we were treated to a beautiful soft focus session film of the Sun Ra Arkestra - also add hugely to the experience.

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