REVIEW: Loop Collective at Frome Festival

Dave Smith (front right) and Fofoulah

Loop Collective at Frome Festival
(The Silk Mill, Frome, 13-14 July 2017. Review by Leander Hobbs)

A small town in Somerset might seem an unusual setting for a weekend of pioneering jazz and improvisation, but that’s exactly what Dave Smith and his Loop collective delivered with their debut performance at the Frome Festival.

Frome is building quite the reputation as a European hub for artists and performers exploring original music. It’s not surprising when you consider residents include saxophonist and composer Iain Ballamy, jazz pianists John Law and Jason Rebello, saxophonist Sam Crockatt and the aforementioned Dave Smith, drummer for Robert Plant (amongst others) and founder of Loop collective.

Founded in 2005, Loop is a group of musicians exploiting the opportunities of collaborative working to encourage and support new and exciting music within the jazz and improvised music genre. It currently has around 20 core groups and 17 members working across the UK and Europe at the forefront of the modern jazz scene. The group’s performance at the Frome Festival in the town’s iconic Silk Mill showcased a vast array of musical influences that included electronic-improv, hip-hop, West African jazz, drones, soundscapes and film.

Kit Downes & Tom Challenger, Thursday 13 July

Downes and Challenger have been working together since 2014 exploring through the mediums of film and music, the acoustic qualities and potentialities of the organ as an instrument of improvisation and discovery. The work, part of Aldeburgh Music’s Open Space project, gave birth to an intriguing and critically acclaimed album – Vyamanikal – as well as a successful UK tour that has pushed the boundaries of traditional organ music.

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger

The packed set kicked off with extracts from the album using a two-harmonium/cello/sax set-up. The sound lingered somewhere between sweeping cinematic vista and breathy soliloquy as the pair shared the solemn, humble and at times playful capabilities of an instrument that has been much-overlooked due in part to its strong religious context.

The layering of cello over harmonium and sax gave an earthy pull to the composition, a rich, deep and at times unsettling bass line that hinted at the organ’s association with some of the more controversial religious annals. Downes and Challenger have created something historic, thought-provoking and yet surprisingly contemporary and it kicked off what was to be two-days of pure sonic exploration.

Splice, Thursday 13 July 

Fusing influences from contemporary jazz, free improvisation, punk grit and ambient music, Splice aka Alex Bonney (trumpet/electronics), Robin Fincker (sax/clarinet), Dave Smith (drums) and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (bass/electronics) treated an unsuspecting audience to a surprising journey that turned musical form and juxtaposition on its head in what was an intensely powerful performance. Glitch solos, fragile melodies and abrasive doom metal motivations left us breathless as the audience desperately clung to anything approaching structural familiarity.  If your thing is free-jazz that expertly traverses the borderless lands between genres then this was the performance for you. Exhausting but overwhelmingly exciting.

Fofoulah Vs Ruhabi, Friday 14 July 

Afro-jazzers Outhouse Ruhabi and electronic Afro-rock group Fofoulah dialled up the heat on Friday night with a soundscape of sensational sabar drum rhythms in a partnership of two very different and distinct musical personalities. Drawing on West African song forms, the two groups contrasted and collided sci-fi synths, raw acoustic improvisation, trance-like grooves, Wolof rap and even electro-dub basslines for an ambient voyage through Ethiopia, Algeria, Senegal and back to Frome in the beat of a drum. Managing to stay the right side of both world music and jazz, the set was rich and deeply personal with a passion that translated into the frenetic movements of both audience and crew for a finale that transcended boundaries.

Vibes and rafters - Jim Hart at Frome
Photo credit: Alex Bonney

Alongside these stand-out performances were special appearances by Corner Pieces and Jim Hart with his wonderful solo vibraphone stylings.  For a festival not particularly billed as an homage to jazz music, Loop collective did well to shore up an audience of both jazz-enthusiasts and a new generation of discoverers. With the existing local jazz scene predominantly focused in Bristol and Bath, this weekend felt like something new and fresh for Frome. Long may it continue.

LINK: More about Loop collective  

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