The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Amazing (disheartening) to realise that it’s been over half a year since i last posted. What happened? It’s hard to say really. It was winter and a bleak one at that. I have been busy – seeming to get ever busier – at work and also at play. I also found myself intimidated by my own expectations – blogging had gone from being fun to an obligation.

Anyway…

I decided i’d get through the winter via live music and i certainly kept my promise. I’ve lost count of how many gigs and concerts i’ve been to over the past months but they include some that were truly outstanding, beginning only a few days after my last post with the tenth anniversary celebration of Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble up at the Arts Depot in Finchley. Three sets ranging from their early Arabic and Latin influenced stuff through to a Charlie Parker tribute with acerbic strings and then a full throttle hard bop set that i had to leave part way through or else i’d have been marooned in North London all night.

THE free jazz rhythm section, William Parker and Hamid Drake followed at the Vortex in early December, playing with with Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. Had to leave that one early because of the snow. Remember the snow? The memory seems almost unreal after this bright, beautiful spring.

Charles Gayle, blowing his horn like a hurricane at Cafe Oto back in January was another great gig as were: Thomas Adès conducting the London Sinfonietta in February, Indian diva Asha Bhosle and Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen (both in March) and the Steve Reich festival i attended this last weekend. This last event was fantastic both in the quality (not to mention quantity) of the music and the atmosphere. It felt like the Steve Reich Proms.

The problem with writing about concerts though is that ultimately, unless the event was recorded, you were either there or you weren’t. It’s a different thing from exhibitions where you can at least post a photo or two of some of the works on show. Not only that but it always seems harder to evoke sound in words. And finally, atmosphere, that most intangible of substances, is so much more important at a concert which is – even when you’re in a room full of strangers – a collective experience in a way that an exhibition isn’t.

Music listened to alone is such a different experience. What you lose in immediacy you gain in privacy – in the chance to open up fully and individually. Listening to a recording over and over again you unpeel the layers of details that make up what seemed initially to be an indissoluble whole. You understand more.

Still, there is something you don’t understand until you hear music live and that’s is its capacity for coming to life. A recording is one manifestation of a piece, one life. Each time the music is played it takes on another life. It comes into being afresh for the performers and the audience present.

On Sunday morning Theatre of Voices performed Steve Reich’s Proverb and David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion, both of which i’ve (now) got as recordings to and have been listening to (obsessively). The recordings are magnificent; yet on Sunday Theatre of Voices took Proverb to another level again. Radiant was the word the festival director used to describe their performance. It was. And then some.

This is one of the great ironies for me: that i love live music above all art forms and yet i loathe crowds – and my definition of a ‘crowd’ is six people. As the old saying goes, i’m caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea!

And who knows which is which…?