I was amused and intrigued by a description of a band playing at Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival which described its music thus: ‘their music unfolds like spells, each evoking chimes of hope, despair, freedom and oblivion’ (Capsule programme: Mesange).
This set me thinking about the different experiences of listening to live music and how it differs from one kind of concert to another. Last week I attended Evan Parker with Friends at The Vortex (see an excellent review of this by Patrick Hatfield on the London Jazz News site). Here, as is normal with a free jazz improvisation, the band played each of the two sets straight through without a break. As Hatfield describes in his review, the music was full of energy and drama with Evan reacting strongly to what Hatfield characterises as Nikki Yeoh’s ‘roar and thunder’, and also to the strong rhythmic drive of John Edwards and Mark Sanders. Listening to this style of music is a very intense and rewarding experience and I don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest that the experience is almost like going into a trance. It is a very different experience from that of listening to more mainstream jazz with the themes leading into solos and back to the theme and plenty of opportunities to applaud at the end of solos etc.
The following day I had the pleasure of listening to a West African band led by Tony Dudu at the Jazzlines Friday foyer session. Tony Dudu’s music has that beautiful, gentle swing that characterises so much of African music and listening to it is a very relaxing and joyful experience. Perhaps their music does ‘unfold like spells’; certainly the listening experience is very different from that of listening to either improv or mainstream jazz.
Then over the weekend I attended the Supersonic Festival. The festival is now extremely varied and it was good to catch Shirley Collins and Yunohana Variations as well as the avant metal bands. The Guardian has a very appropriate review, which you can read here. But there are still a lot of very loud bands and it is interesting to note that these seem to focus on creating an impressive sound that, once established, continues throughout the set. There is none of the development of an arc in the way that free jazz and improv moves throughout an improvised set. Needless to say, I find this to be another very different listening experience. It requires less concentration as the music does not change that much, and there is more of a physical reaction to the loudness of the music.