Live Music + Gig Reviews

Carl Craig + Matmos et al @ Royal Festival Hall, London

12 February 2010

The Red Bull Music Academy have a pleasing penchant for risk taking in their gigs and club nights. ‘Eclectronica’, you might call it – where seemingly unrelated artists find themselves thrown together on a bill that makes sense on the night.

So it was here, with techno giants, a sampling duo and a jazz pianist sharing a triple billing of intriguing music in the unlikely setting of the Royal Festival Hall. The only drawback with this was the seats, as it’s hard to dance when you’re sitting down, no matter how groovy the music.
Henrik Schwarz and Bugge Wesseltoft started the evening with a soothing set of nocturnal deep house, the latter improvising around his themes on Steinway or synthesizer, while Schwarz conjured up all sorts of electronic trickery on his laptop. It was an intriguing mix, Wesseltoft tempering his instincts for more intense jazz to complement the subtle beats and visuals.

Matmos were equally creative, justifying their escape from snowy Baltimore with some cleverly executed electronica, made live by some typically inventive sampling. For their adaptation of Terry Riley‘s Sunrise Of The Planetary Dream Collector they used tuning forks and other small metallic contraptions, held close to a microphone and fed into the short but strikingly beautiful melodic phrases.

The ‘Apple’ logo was ubiquitous throughout the evening, and was in evidence for Carl Craig‘s set. This focused on his recent reworkings of classical music with Moritz von Oswald, and included live contributions from saxophone and piano. The latter was performed by Francesco Tristano, the man responsible for a vivid cover of Derrick May‘s Strings Of Life, while saxophonist David Brutti veered between fulsome baritone and shrill soprano.

The music often evoked night-time Harlem, moving into greater focus when the steady kick drum was added, or when Tristano’s more energetic piano riffs were deployed, but moving out of focus again as the material became more improvised.

This was the stumbling block over which the set stalled, its structure never fully clear, and things got worse 45 minutes in when a steward tapped Craig on the arm to give him the ‘five minutes left’ signal, an outrageous piece of clock watching that showed a total lack of respect for the music onstage.

As a result we stayed relatively earthbound, but were finally able to exercise those twitchy feet courtesy of a set from DJ Sprinkles in the Clore Ballroom, bringing a largely successful evening of music to its rightful end.

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