There was a real buzz of excitement at the Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, it was Saturday night and Lighthouse were up against the men’s 5000m race at the Olympic Stadium! Lighthouse are a super-group comprising Tim Garland on various reeds, Gwilym Simcock on piano and Asaf Sirkis on percussion. In their 75 minutes set we were treated to most of the album called Lighthouse (released earlier this year, celebrating their signing to ACT) and some old and new material.
What’s different about Lighthouse? Well, no bass for a start. And a fascinating drum kit for Asaf to conjure delightful sounds out of. Not just a hang, but tiny cymbals, tambourines played like drums, tinkly bells and an earthenware instrument called an udu which looks like the moroccan tagine you might cook in. Asaf plays the hang in the orthodox way with his fingers (not the Portico Quartet way) and in his hands it becomes a magical thing, the sound floating around the theatre, lingering in our memories still longer. His extended solo on ‘King Barolo’ was a delight. We hear his interest in Indian rhythms, his pleasure in playing is captivating.
Here’s their genius, ‘One morning’ is a hymn to a new saxophone and a lament for a lost friend. It manages to be both wistful and celebratory at the same time. Tim’s sax is at its most silky on ‘King Barolo’. He played bass clarinet on the Spanish-influenced ‘Bajo del Sol’, Asaf’s drums reminding me of leopard running across a savannah.
It’s always a delight to listen to Gwilym’s light touch, especially evident in the thoughtful ‘The Wind on the Water’. He manages to play a lot of notes without it sounding cluttered or heavy. He reminds me a little of John Taylor, with his delicacy, space and pastoral calm. I would say “Englishness” but Gwilym is, of course, Welsh.
The new tracks were ‘Empires’ by Gwilym and an amusing piece called ‘Accidental Tango’. ‘Empires’ contained very dense layers of sound and different textures broken by delicate plucking of the piano strings. Tim told us that Astor Piazzolla described the best tempo for a tango as like someone standing behind you with a knife. With that scarey thought in mind the artists tried to trip each other up with abrupt stops and starts in ‘Accidental Tango’. Like mind-readers they did not falter, they are a supergroup after all. At one stage all three artists were playing percussion and enjoying it immensely.
There are two tracks that I think are crying out for release as vinyl singles (if ACT does such a popular thing?). They are ‘Space Junk’ with its heavy insistent nightclub-like beat and the danceable ‘King Barolo’ with instantly memorable tune picked out by the hang. I feel very strongly that tunes are important in engaging an audience and maybe a younger one. As Branford Marsalis puts it in a recent Jazzwise article (Aug 2012) “the audience is not interested in doing extra homework to appreciate a jazz concert”. So tunes and a strong beat are a way in. Space Junk quickly leaves clubbing behind with its jaunty haunting melodica (a harmonica-like instrument, the sound we love on Asaf’s ‘Other Stars and Planets’). It opens the album and gets you in the mood for all the surprises to come.
The sound mixing at Theatr Brycheiniog was perfect and appreciated by artists and audience. If I have one tiny reservation about them, it is to wonder why there is no material by Asaf in their repertoire?
And did they take our minds off the 5000m race? Well yes they did, until we got home!