REVIEW: Nik Bärtsch & Sha Duo plus OY at Rich Mix

Nik Bärtsch and Sha

Nik Bärtsch & Sha Duo plus OY 
(Rich Mix, Bethnal Green. 20th May. Serious Space Festival. Review by Liam Izod)

The penultimate night of the Serious Space festival offered a duo double header, with the zen funk of Nik Bärtsch & Sha counterpointed by the surreal electronica of OY. Both acts orbited around jazz as it is traditionally understood, taking a rapt Rich Mix crowd on rewarding explorations into the genre’s borderlands.

Nik Bärtsch possesses that much coveted musical commodity – a sound that is uniquely his own. His compositions have the intricacy and mystery of a perpetual motion machine, with mesmeric grooves underpinned by ever-evolving metres. The pieces have been honed over decades of experimentation, and a near-telepathic tightness exists between Bärtsch and bass clarinettist Sha as a result.

The duo format lends a new intimacy to compositions originally intended for the larger Ronin outfit. Breath alone has never felt so dramatic. Sha conjures hisses and growls from his instrument, engaging in entirely percussive passages in duet with Bärtsch’s prepared piano. This is music as a philosophical statement, but Bärtsch never forgets his most revelatory tenet - that art-music can be funky. The audience hang on every subtle shift throughout a series of ten minute plus ‘moduls’. As the groovy minimalism of Modul 35 concludes the set, the crowd are clear converts to Bärtsch’s ritualistic rhythms.

Art-electronica duo OY share a shamanistic quality with Nik Bärtsch, though their approach is considerably more madcap. Arriving on stage dressed as if they had come straight from the set of surrealist comedy The Mighty Boosh, OY delivered a captivating performance pitched somewhere between preaching and performance art.

A preview from their forthcoming album ‘Space Diaspora’ reveals irresistibly wonky grooves that front-woman Joy Frempong bounces off, delivering satirical sermons about a tongue-in-cheek utopia in a far galaxy. Drummer Lleluja-Ha lends the symphony of samples an organic element; his outlandish costume no impediment to endlessly inventive drum patterns.

Although contrasting in approach, the evening’s two acts share an experimental spirit, and yet they never forget the need to entertain and to engage an audience. Both serve as ideal ambassadors for the Serious Space festival’s mission to break down the boundaries surrounding jazz and other great music outside the mainstream, opening it up to new audiences.

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