REVIEW: Sounding Tears at The Lab, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

Sound Tears: Mat Maneri, Lucian Ban and Evan Parker
Promotional photo
Sounding Tears
(The Lab, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 20 October 2017. Review by Peter Bacon)

There is a delicious irony in the fact that a lot of the time what this trio does - exquisitely - is leave breathing pauses in the music. Ironic because, unusually for a trio that has a horn player, pausing for breath is one thing it has no need of. That is because joining viola player Mat Maneri and pianist Lucian Ban in Sounding Tears is that master of the continuous soprano saxophone flow, Evan Parker.

It was with slow, sparse and thoughtfully stated phrases that Maneri and Parker began the 75-minute unbroken set - six pieces of music plus a short encore - before giving way to a solo section from Ban. This began tinged with tenuous melancholy before gradually increasing in determination with associated gravitas. Maneri responded in kind and the pair broadened the improv-meets-contemporary-composition character of the music to take in the inkling of a blues phrase (Ban) and some almost romantic lyricism (Maneri).

The material was unannounced, aside from Blessed, a piece which Maneri wrote, had previously recorded with his father, Joe, on piano, and is on the Sounding Tears album, released on the Clean Feed label earlier this year. It came early on in the set and was a thing of beauty, a slow, thoughtful viola/piano duet of elegiac mood, romantic and sensual too, though in a restrained way.
This mood is at the heart of Sounding Tears’ music (that band title is of the ‘what it says on the tin’ kind) but it’s by no means a straightjacket - the players explore all the limits, nooks and crannies of their chosen playground.

The other really striking thing one is aware of, apart from the breathing, is how strongly Maneri, Parker and Ban play with their ears. That might sound like stating the obvious - which musicians don’t listen to each other? - but rarely have I been aware just how acutely they were listening. We could almost hear them listening! And, of course, we could… in their responses to the statements, nuances, and suggestions from the other two. The audience responded with heightened attention and a kind of worshipful silence.

There were many sublime moments: Parker exploring high, whistling overtones against low, dampened, struck piano strings which resonated and reverberated out from the Steinway’s raised lid; the gradual, perfectly controlled building of an acoustic storm by all three; Maneri choosing to lay a folk-like dirge over the bustling busyness of Ban and Parker.

The performance proper ended with hints of a hymn tune or nocturne, perhaps, the saxophone floating above a gently descending line from piano and viola. It had come full circle in the most graceful and complete of ways.

Some performances don’t need encores so it was a pity that convention had to be enforced on this occasion. Sounding Tears tossed off a quick one and everyone else seemed satisfied.

This was the first event in this venue promoted by Tony Dudley-Evans in association with Fizzle, the fortnightly free/improv night held elsewhere in the city. It was an ideal space - a black box with great acoustics and nothing to distract from music which is, in a way, context-free.

LINK: Fizzle's programme

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