Sunday, 28 July 2013

Benjamin Zephaniah, Club Inégales

Topographically speaking, if you want to edge your way into the North London jazz scene, then Club Inégales is probably the best (closest!) way forward. Tucked away under a law firm just off the Euston Road, the 'club' refers to the people that gather there - Peter Wiegold and his band, and the various diverse collaborating artists who join them - rather than the venue itself ('Double Orders', which is actually the lawyers' private bar, generously lent out to the musicians).

Google maps notwithstanding, the venue may be easy to access but the music makes no concession. On this evening we were to hear the Rastafarian-Beat poet Benjamin Zephanaih both alone and then with the band. All improvised, the three tracks of the band's set were clearly indebted to the sound world of late sixties fusion Miles Davis (one can hear the sound of both In A Silent Way and Big Fun. Indeed, large screens advertise a recent studio recording in homage to the trumpeter) The form moves between sparing musical gesture and groove, using electronic processes to transform sounds. In the first number Criminal Negligence Joel Bell's electric guitar (on this occasion) started the process in just this fashion, creating a mirage of sound as a leaping-off point, only to take his part in the improvised discussion later on.

Second in the set, Stuff, had the barest suggestion of compositional form to it, but only in that there were various thematic ideas written down in blocks, with a starting point once again decided on at the last moment (a good feature for Martin Butler's piano here). Finally the group went all in for groove proper - although, with an ethnic twist, working a number in 11 beats to the bar after a South Indian model. Rowland Sutherland's flute shone throughout this first set, and the whole band played with purposeful articulation in the lines of their solos.

For his part, Zephanaiah spoke as much as he recited, giving us characteristically open-eyed poems about multiculturalism (he's an advocate) and a charismatic, forceful meditation on Stephen Lawrence. There's a lot of humour in his work though; unafraid of subversion and parody he had the audience shouting 'be happy' to a series of modern conundrums that needle us all in an updating of the popular song.

There is great rhythm in Zephaniah's work and so the final set the brought him together with the band was the evening's most rewarding. Closing with the celebrated Rong Radio Station was not only a crowd-pleaser but a driving number but the intensity had already been established with Naked, where the evocative power of processes allied to the instruments (here, Torbjorn Hultmark's trumpet) showed itself every bit as powerful as the grooves.

The whole evening was compered by bandleader Peter Wiegold in a clubbable, informal style, though he takes time to talk about the backstory and make-up of the music. All this I imagine to be the right formula for such events and I'm looking forward to seeing what's coming up in their autumn season.

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