This was meant to run in inpress (Melbourne street press) but was nudged out by the White Stripes and Kings of Leon reviews. It was a strange gig, strange not necessarily meaning bad, just strange. I think I experienced some difficulty because over the previous few weeks I’d seen an enormous amount of improvised music so I’m trying to work out if I’m just a pretentious snob or if something really was wrong. I’d be interested to hear anyone else thoughts who attended. Anyway here it is:
Improvised music has a tendency to offer up many questions, the majority of which aren’ too easily answered. The term itself is filled with much baggage expectation and misconception and if the last few weeks up at Now Now and Articulating Space, festivals that celebrate the art form, have taught me anything then it should be to expect the unexpected. Tonight’s performance was a little different as the worlds the participants inhabit were so markedly different. Improvisation is about finding some common musical ground and it was always going to be difficult with the bass player and drummer from indie folk outfit Augie March, Omar, the guitarist from intense prog rockers the Mars Volta, renowned improviser and experimentalist guitarist Oren Ambarchi, and Chris Abrahams and Tony Buck from improv outfit the Necks on drums and DX7 respectively. Then of course you have Damo Suzuki, a man who spent some time with Krautrock legends Can and has since travelled the world on a never-ending world tour, improvising with every musician he can find. Tonight was about worlds colliding and making sense of the rubble. About searching for moments where the participants transcend their baggage and communicate in some kind of new and pure musical language.
And it was sold out, quickly. Predominantly by Mars Volta fantatics wanting to get close to their hero. With camera phones poised, every lick was noted every strut, or the way he bobbed his head when he was starting to feel the music. Omar was always going to be the guy who didn’ really fit. Whilst Mars Volta are known for their improvised moments, rock improvisation is a very different beast from the improv the aforementioned festivals celebrate. Their first set went for an hour and a half with the pieces progressing slowly, increasing in dynamics as Damo moaned, wailed and muttered, throwing himself into the music, despite arriving from Germany earlier in the day. The music felt loose and spiritual, like some kind of tribal trance music, Buck in particular seeming to enjoy the opportunity to rock out for a change. The music was warm and primal with progressions coming from changes in dynamics.
It was the second set where things started to go a little awry. Whilst there were some great moments of working together between Buck and Abrahams and later Omar with Abrahams almost finishing his sentences, these were few and far between. For the most it was five individuals playing individually with Suzuki attempting to use his vocals to provide some unity. Whilst both the bass player and Abrahams would occasionally stop, look around and attempt to work their way in, Omar by contrast did not stop for a second, so that the entire second set was basically a one and a half hour guitar solo, inventive and brilliantly executed, yet still a solo and whilst that probably pleased the Volta fanatics to no end it didn’ do much for the music. And this is probably where one of the lessons of improvised music lie. Sometimes what you don’ play is more important than what you do. And listening to those around you also helps too.