[live review] murcof & francesco tristano, hidden orchestra @ queen elizabeth hall, southbank
November 19, 2010
Concert date: November 16, 2010
If the performance from Murcof and Francesco Tristano (pictured above, right and left respectively) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday evening wasn’t jazz – and judging by the mini exodus in the opening minutes of their set it certainly didn’t match preconceptions of what a London Jazz Festival event should sound like – it at least retained the genre’s core attributes: a conscious balancing of spontaneity and structure; a willingness to diverge from the beat-en track to explore themes more loosely and deeply; call and response between instruments; and, yes, the ability to confound expectations.
Over the past five years, Tristano (Luxembourg-born, Juilliard-educated) has made a name for himself as a pianist performing both classical music (antiquarian and modern) and contemporary jazz. As composer, though, he stretches into less well-defined, more experimental – though still very musical – territory, embracing technology to both augment and manipulate his piano sound; his latest album, Idiosynkrasia [buy from eMusic or Boomkat] was recorded at Carl Craig‘s Planet E studios.
Murcof (Fernando Corona) operates in a similar domain, but arrived there from opposite direction. A Mexican producer and laptop artist, Murcof’s groundbreaking debut album, Martes [buy from eMusic or Boomkat], deployed meticulously-edited samples of contemporary classical music (violin plucks, cello stabs, string phrases) onto a spare minimal techno backdrop.
The seeds for this performance were sown back in 2007 when Corona produced Tristano’s debut album, the misleadingly titled Not For Piano. Spotlit in a darkened auditorium, the pair set reworked music from this album over just three pieces across a set lasting just shy of an hour and a quarter. The soundworld they created, once it had absorbed you (it was a gradual surrender), was a deeply rewarding experience. The connection between the two musicians was formed by the real-time effects and resampling Murcof applied to Tristano’s largely improvised parade – sometimes sparse, sometimes dense – of notes, chords and passages. In this respect at least the music was jazz.
As the set progressed piano-led concert hall acoustics gradually gave to a night club feel as Murcof’s subsonic frequencies were foregrounded, electronic beats were added and Tristano’s playing became more rhythmic. The final piece – a 20 minute extended groove based on Hello, the opening track on Not For Piano – piled minimal techno on top of dub effects on top of a hypnotic, trance-like piano line. It left the audience (except those few that gave up early on, of course) wanting more.
The evening began with a short set from Hidden Orchestra, the brainchild of UK composer and sound designer Joe Acheson. HO are a contemporary ensemble (with two drum kits – yes!) who create soulful, cinematic moods a bit like, well, the Cinematic Orchestra (see also the Heliocentrics and the Heritage Orchestra). A pleasing listen, and one to explore further (they recently issued their first album, Night Walks) – though an improvised solo or two would have added a welcome sense of risk to their comfortable musical backdrop.