Tuesday 29 September 2015

Madras String Quartet - Purcell Room

Mohan Rao
The forms and instruments were those expected when entering the Purcell Room (21/07/2015), the two violins, viola and cello were the shape that is pictured in the mind. The sound was abstracted and unexpected. Definitions twisted in the mouth and often spat out their sentiments like elegant tourreted impulses.

K Sasikumar
Four men sat on stage, dressed in white, their canvas as blank as my mind. The furthest to the left was leader VS Narasimhan and as our gaze headed right we captured Mohan Rao (violin), VR Sekar (cello) and finally K Sasikumar (viola). An hour journey of abstract proportion awaited that would evoke the metaphorical smell of Proust's madeleine. The involuntary memory that starts as an abstract form yet materialises as an object that is as indestructible and complete as a Fisher Price toy.

The music taunted us to cry, piggy back pats and those childhood games that are both cruel and addictive. VS Narasimhan's violin let out the whine of a child, the infants gaze settling on page after page of those old fashioned books of fables and myths, warts and jokes, light and dark. The viola was the maturity, the cello the voice of reason. It was the tension of a squirming tadpole in the palm, sliding between the fingers before being lost in the grass.

VS Narasimhan
Pride made us sit up straight backed, Narasimhan laced the brocade of his music as though his willowy fingers twisted the buttons on a uniform. The four of them were the foundation stones in a young boy's dam, the dancing water passed around them. The only movement, the eyebrow jig from VR Sekar's eyebrows. It was if the quartet had been carved from the hillside, steps of narrow fertile farmland. Perhaps there had been a little erosion with age but it was easy to call this wisdom, and to trust your footing in the ascent of these steps.

VR Sekar
It was never clear whether the long shoots and teetering stems of the violins spoke of dying or living. All that was clear was that the sound was malleable and dropped into Purcell Room laps like a wriggling being, a plasticine and abstract spirit. The connection was initiated by our eyes, watching the performers' nimble digits but feeling the twitch in our own fingers too. It was a night of naked Fingerbob dancers.


Thursday 3 September 2015

Joanna Strand at Crazy Coqs

Jacqui Tate
After a hiatus of several weeks the pen is once again in hand. Those who have been waiting accept my apologies. There is always a bottleneck before I escape to France for the summer break and this year was no exception.

Joanna Strand
A French night is never far away in London and the Crazy Coqs is such a venue of style and class that it is easy to transport yourself away from the grinding filth of the capital streets. The grime and plod that we walk through couldn't be further from the persona of Joanna Strand, who packed out the Crazy Coqs during her 3 night residency in June (2015).

John Bailey - piano
Joanna Strand has a poise that every sloucher covets, a light touch in both narrative and song that elevates us above the humdrum but not without losing our original romantic ideals, that of a wonder for the beauty in the everyday world. Strand is at her best when she references this world of Rousseauian abundance. Beware the dangers and unhappiness if we remove ourselves from Strand's dell of Nature. Her gentleman pianist, John Bailey, reminds us of the effete Sir Brooke Boothby in Joseph Wright's famous painting as he lounges in Strand's burgeoning gothic landscape . In fact Bailey was commissioned in 2009 by Derby Jazz to commemorate the anniversary of painter Joseph Wright of Derby (who famously painted Boothby with Rousseau's book in hand). Check it out for yourself.

Jason Reeve - Drums
Joanna Strand was joined on stage by Jacqui Tate (Avenue Q, Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific) for standards and comedic entertainments. Strand and Tate are an established duo who cross effortless from jazz to classical with the occasional foray into the popular songbook. Versatility is their byword and with a long list of operatic and musical theatre credits to their name, they entertained the Crazy Coqs audience all the way to their empty cocktail glasses.

Nick Pini - Bass
When alone Jacqui Tate took the eye in the vermillion light of the Crazy Coqs while the scrunched face of bassist Nick Pini reigned blue during Cole Porter's Love for Sale. It was Tate's performance of Padam Padam which took the night though. Eastern flavours amongst the French gave it a hard exotic punch, enough to knock our molars out and replace them some much more sharp and incisive. Which was unusual, for this was not a night for baring teeth except with winning smiles.

Romano Viazzani -
It was a night of variety with a small v rather than the capital and Romano Viazzani rewarded ardent listeners with a solo rendition of Jalousie/Jealousy. Here we got a chance to dirty our brogues, thrilling the dancer, the chancer in us all. It even appealed to the latent dueller within, although this was no quick bout, a longer death awaited. There were stays-of-execution in which we were friends once again before an inevitable final decent.

Rodney Earl Clarke
This night reunited Strand with bass-baritone Rodney Earl Clarke for the first time on stage in twenty years. They met as postgraduate students at The Royal Academy of Music all those years ago. Strand played Tonight Tonight with a touch of frailty while Clarke was a tank of a man. He caught her in his viscous amber voice like she was the most intricate of lacewings.