Live Music + Gig Reviews

Simon Bookish + Deathray Trebuchet @ Vortex, London

10 April 2009

Simon Bookish

Simon Bookish

A small, boxy, brightly-lit upstairs room on a Dalston backstreet plays host to the Vortex: with a notable absence of velvet drapes and red lampshades, it’s hardly your typical jazz venue. Just as well, then – because Simon Bookish and Deathray Trebuchet are only jazz acts in the very loosest sense of the term.

Simon Bookish, only a few gigs into his all-new, audience-friendly persona, takes to the stage in a Miami Vice white suit and pink shirt combo, and is clearly enjoying himself enormously from the start. Fronting a six piece band (Farfisa organ, drums, bass, and two – yes, two! – saxophones), he seems less mannered and less self-conscious than the one-man act of old, flinging his arms around and jerking like a marionette as he croons his way through the highlights of last year’s Everything/Everything album.

Everything sounds crisp, urgent and driving; close to the sound of the original album, though even more mesmerising in a live setting. Carbon and Synchotron are predictable highlights, but the biggest surprise of the evening is how Bookish turns the darker, more inaccessible elements of the album into crowd pleasers. Victorinox, a tune which, on record, veers obscurely between Chinese opera and modern jazz, is bolstered tonight by chunky brass and a terrifically animated performance by Bookish, as he plunges into the audience and switches from frontman to conductor.

Throughout, his cut-glass delivery means the audience can hear every word – no mean feat with such muscular backing – and it becomes abundantly clear that his provocative modernist poetics would work just as well on the page as on the stage. There’s a brief and possibly inadvisable foray into scat singing on Alsatian Dog, but hey, this is a jazz club after all, and when in Rome…

No such lyricism for Deathray Trebuchet, a highly eclectic and pretty much uncategorisable sextet from South London. Driven by a trio of brass instruments (trumpet, trombone, and saxophone), they lurch effortlessly between jazz, Balkan music, Jamaican dancehall and Tijuana brass. Their look is just as much of a mash-up – dressed in an assortment of vintage heavy metal sleeveless T-shirts, headbands, shades and cheap accessories (or, in one case, barely dressed at all) they cut a look somewhere between the Beastie Boys and the men from the 118 118 advert.

If the Brooklyn/Hoxton look is a little mannered, the music certainly isn’t. It’s powerful, unpredictable, and communicates immediately with unfamiliar ears without resorting to any easy clichs. Elements which should grate – turning on a sixpence between different genres, squeaky saxophone solos, forays into modern jazz atonality – are pulled off with style. There’s a definite punk element to Deathray Trebuchay, too: hard to qualify, though indisputably there. Perhaps it’s in the attitude, perhaps in the relentless delivery, or perhaps in the occasional vocal moments, where all six members of the band bark at once, and both The Clash and The Specials are brought to mind.

Two very different acts, but both proving in their own way that you don’t need guitars or synthesisers to set pulses racing.

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