[live review] murcof & francesco tristano, hidden orchestra @ queen elizabeth hall, southbank

November 19, 2010

Concert date: November 16, 2010

Francesco Tristano & Murcof performing at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southank, London, November 16th 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.


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