A double bill curated by Phil Durrant brought together two improvising trios last night at Café Oto. On first were a saxophone, electronics and drums trio with Rick Jensen, Phil Durrant and Steve Noble followed in the second set by Shifa with Rachel Musson on tenor and soprano saxophones, Pat Thomas on piano and Mark Sanders on drums. Each played a set of about 45 mins.
The evening worked really well with music of the very highest quality which provided interesting contrasts between the two approaches to improvisation. The Jensen Durrant Noble trio was a high energy set, and quite loud, but never overpoweringly so. It started with a series of powerful statements from Jensen on tenor sax supported by the amazing drumming of Noble. Durrant underpinned it all with ambient sounds and gradually found his way into the improvisations. The overriding impression was of full-on improvisation, but there was a pleasing arc to it all with the energy levels dipping and then rising again throughout the set. Perhaps at the beginning of the set the degree of integration between the three players was low, but gradually through the set this improved markedly.
The Shifa set was much more subtle. The name Shifa is derived from shifaya, the Arabic for ‘healing’ and there is an element of healing in the flow and interplay of the group’s improvisations. The set started very strongly with Thomas setting the pace on the piano and he seemed to be leading the way for the rest of the set.
Musson’s ability to react to Thomas’s playing was most impressive and she developed some fascinating and absorbing lines throughout. Sanders provided a subtle percussive commentary on it all. Rather than the series of arcs that characterised the Jensen Durrant Noble set, the music moved in different directions, constantly surprising us with a change in direction, but always following a logical path. The first long improvisation reached its natural end, but the trio immediately followed up with a shorter, but satisfying conclusion to the evening.
It was interesting to note the contrast between the two groups; Jensen Durrant Noble’s set was loud, exciting and absolutely full-on improvisation. Shifa’s set was, although also quite loud and high energy, was more subtle and abstract. It was also noticeable how different Shifa’s set at Oto was compared to its first outing in Birmingham back in March, the difference coming from Thomas’ use of the acoustic piano at Oto rather than electronics as at Birmingham. I’d say it works much better with the piano.
There was plenty of drama in both sets!