Can of Worms + Rachel Musson/Olie Brice, The Oxford, London

From 2016. Contrasts, contrasts? No, not so much. Both support and main band had more in common than at first blush presented here upstairs by the long running Jazz @ the Oxford in the intimate function room above the main part of this Kentish Town …

Published: 27 Nov 2019. Updated: 3 months.

From 2016. Contrasts, contrasts? No, not so much. Both support and main band had more in common than at first blush presented here upstairs by the long running Jazz @ the Oxford in the intimate function room above the main part of this Kentish Town pub, the dichotomy a free improv / freebop combination.

The opener was the pick of the night for me, just: a feral blast of a free improv powder keg ignited by tenor saxophonist Rachel Musson’s multiphonics that spat, kissed, caressed, cajoled, coaxed and enchanted a crowd of her own invention from deep within hurling sound effects somehow shaped from an invisible mob fermenting discord inside her mouth, larynx-hurtling at velocity to collide with her reed. Astonishing to hear, sound images flickered into view as fibres and shards of sax sandblasted the vocalisations. It later prompted me to go back to listen to her excellent trio album Tatterdemalion.

Double bassist Olie Brice rampaged throughout, a randomising and companionable Henry Grimes-like Boswell to Musson’s Evan Parker-esque Dr Johnson careering way down on his travels beyond the bridge of his instrument for brisk forays into the tiny reluctant harmonic spaces hidden beyond to squeeze out cable whirs and tease squeals and shudders somehow, every risk rewarded in his approach. Best bit? Might sound a bit unconventional but it was when Musson stuffed a tin can into the bell of her tenor saxophone, the riot of dissonant reactions sending Brice’s fingers itch-frantic.

A different Can, its contents landing with a ferocious plop from its presumably very organic wormery, was George Crowley’s two-tenor battling quintet Can of Worms the same band here as on their very promising self-titled record from last year.

Keyboardist Dan Nicholls took a while to truly paint it red on the Nord but when he got past the bashful diffident stage that the writing arc seemed to demand he was a boffin-like revelation whether projecting Rhodes-ian rumbles or conjuring harp-like pentatonic spikiness. Crowley, who introduced both bands and runs the Monday night session, sparred with Tom Challenger instinctively the pair fast and furious but finding time to charm on a cooingly-radical take on Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’. There was a reminder too of the much missed Richard Turner on the tune ‘T-Leaf’ and the final number was where the band came into their own on a Marc Ribot number from the guitarist’s Cubanos Postizos phase. Sam Lasserson on double bass was the standout performer of the band while Jon Scott, returning with Monocled Man later in the year, scored best when he switched to wire brushes but knew too how to ramp up the energy levels for added intensity. Stephen Graham

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Tigran Hamasyan / Yerevan State Chamber Choir, Luys i Luso, ECM

From 2015. Whether it will become a new Officium and ignite the imagination of the broader jazz and particularly classical music public’s curiosity on a mass scale is impossible to predict. But the striking unearthly qualities and interventions of …

Published: 27 Nov 2019. Updated: 3 months.

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From 2015. Whether it will become a new Officium and ignite the imagination of the broader jazz and particularly classical music public’s curiosity on a mass scale is impossible to predict. But the striking unearthly qualities and interventions of ancient cultures and history made into the way we think about music and live today are somehow at work in the same way as the Hilliards and Jan Garbarek achieved in combination back in the 1990s despite the huge musical and cultural differences.

Tigran Hamasyan may be impossible to pin down stylistically, former musical collaborator Trilok Gurtu has even commented tellingly that he “plays piano like a raga.” As one of the most acclaimed beyond-genre jazz pianists of the past decade he is performing with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir digging deep back into his Armenian roots recording this beautiful album in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.

Luys i Luso is an extraordinarily spiritual album that has a humbling majesty and stillness to it. The title meaning, in English, ‘light from light’, explores Armenian sacred music, the pianist loosely improvising around Armenian modes at one with the chamber choir interpreting newly arranged Armenian hymns, sharakans (chants) and cantos some dating back to the 5th century by among others Grigor Narekatsi, Nerses Shnorhali, Mesrop Mashtots, Mkhitar Ayrivanetsi, Grigor Pahlavuni and Komitas mainly written in grabar, the oldest form of the Armenian language.

There’s little here to compare with anything undertaken by a contemporary jazz musician apart from say Keith Jarrett’s explorations of the mystic Armenian modes and atmospheres of Gurdjieff in the 1980s with the cult Sacred Hymns of GI Gurdjieff, or cellist Anja Lechner’s later duo explorations of Komitas and others.

A different mindset is needed as a listener away from fixed styles and comfort zones. On the metrically complex ‘Ov Zarmanali’ Tigran breathes wind into some improvisatory runs to break loose a little more than the otherwise tight structures allow, the piano parts not written out within the arrangement giving him a lot of room for interpretation. Later there’s a surge of power and inspiration the choir responding to Tigran’s sudden freedom on Mashtots piece ‘Voghormea indz Astvats’ a fasting canticle and plea for divine mercy.

The vibrato-less singing style guided by four-part harmony remains simple and pure throughout. And there is no conscious or forced meeting of ancient and modern or diverging traditions that might dilute the impact of the collaboration, the piano part and sacred voices somehow achieving a oneness, the monastic atmosphere of the whole album magically conveyed. The heady themes of repentance, devotion and struggle unite in an unerring mood that holds your attention from start to finish remarkably powerful even in the secular world we live in. SG