Wigmore Hall, London’s specialist chamber music venue, has recently announced the appointment of nine Associate Artists, and the list includes four artists known to the jazz and improvised music community: saxophonist Trish Clowes, vocalist Elaine Mitchener, American bass player Christian McBride and performer/composer Nitin Sawhney. Trish, Elaine and Christian are also composers, as is usual with musicians from jazz and creative music communities. Each artist will be guaranteed at least one concert a year in the hall over the five year period of association. The full list of the associate artists can be seen here.
Interestingly, both Elaine and Trish presented live streamed concerts on Monday of this week, Elaine at lunchtime and Trish in the evening; both concerts will be available online for a month from the day of the stream. It is strange that very few of the multitude of live streams and recordings appearing online get reviewed, so here goes with my own small contribution!
I watched Trish’s stream first, so I will start with her. She played an impressive duo set with her regular pianist Ross Stanley. I particularly liked the way Trish and Ross made no compromises in the jazz numbers they played, interacting brilliantly with both energy and delicacy on nicely intricate compositions from the two of them. They began with Trish’s Free to Fall and included two of Ross’ compositions early in the set, Avoidance and Ashford Days, the latter inspired by fellow pianist John Taylor and his Ambleside Days composition. Two more of Trish’s compositions came towards the end of the set with the intriguingly titled Decently Ripped, a tribute to Wayne Shorter, and A Room With A View.
Trish and Ross know each other’s playing well from years of working together in Trish’s My Iris quartet (with guitarist Chris Montague and drummer James Maddren) and they interacted so well on these jazz numbers. This was particularly the case with a sensitive rendering of Duke Ellington’s Prelude To A Kiss.
Equally impressive were the forays into classical music. Trish has always engaged with contemporary classical music as well as jazz, particularly in the cross-genre Emulsion festivals. As part of this programme, she included a number of arrangements for the duo of classical pieces, so we had a movement from Joe Cutler’s Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii piece written specifically for Trish, the 3rd Prelude from Dupré’s Three Preludes and Fugues, the Sleep movement from Autumn in Vivaldi’s The Seasons. Finally, we had a lively version of Tres Palabras, a song by a popular Cuban composer, Farrés, and, for me the highlight of the set, a beautifully sensitive version of a traditional folk song, The Month of January, usually performed by June Tabor.
The set with its genre fluidity struck me as entirely appropriate for the Wigmore Hall, and also for the way in which both Trish and Ross revelled in, and took advantage of the excellence of the acoustic and the quality of the piano.
Elaine Mitchener also moves between the jazz/improvised music and contemporary classical worlds. In recent years she has developed a number of projects related to the American black avant garde, notably Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde and The Jeanne Lee Project. The set began with Charles Mingus’ String Quartet No. 1, a wonderful piece written by Mingus for a string quartet and a vocalist. The piece was premiered at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1972 as part of an evening dedicated to the memory of the poet Frank O’Hara, and seems not to have been performed again until it was discovered by Anton Lukoszevieze, leader of the Apartment House ensemble. The piece is built around the words of O’Hara’s The Clown, the words of which clearly had a resonance for Mingus with lines such as:
‘What have you done?’ he screamed. ‘I was
not like this when you came’ ‘Alas’
they sighed ‘you were not like us’.
The piece is intense, full of exciting gestures, and was brilliantly performed by the string quartet and Elaine, the latter declaiming the words of the poem with great expression and drama. It is a great discovery that I hope might enter the string quartet repertoire.
In similar vein from the avant garde of the 1960s and 1970s were Jeanne Lee’s Mingus Meditations, Archie Shepp’s Blé and Christian Wolff’s later piece I Like To Think Of Harriet Tubman, which sets to music the text about Harriet Tubman by Susan Griffin. Then there were pieces by Benjamin Patterson, Duet for Voice and String Instruments, Louise Bourgeois, Insomnia Drawings, Elaine herself, Thought Word, and Katalin Ladik Genesis. In these pieces Elaine’s brilliant, dramatic and occasionally alarming vocals, either wordless or improvising round individual words, integrated well with either Neil Charles’ solo double bass, or the string quartet.
This was an outstanding start to the Associate Artists programme with Trish and Elaine, and encouraging evidence of an openness on the part of the Wigmore Hall, and also of the broader issue of the genre fluidity of so much contemporary music. You can access the streams here.