Three gigs in one, could you ask for more? Jazz Line-up at the Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre offered us three very different short sets, each giving us an insight into the creative process that you don’t usually get in a live performance. The first, from Aruán Ortiz, a Cuban pianist whose quintet included Michael Janisch on bass and Greg Osby on saxophone was a fairly uncompromising upbeat set which felt very New York to me with its hard driving grooves. Just the thing to warm us up. The band keep in touch by Skype which must be an interesting way to rehearse when you are on different continents.
Then came pianist Tigran Hamasyan who divides his time between New York and Paris. His La Petite Esperance moved me greatly, I was captivated in an instant, sat forward in my seat holding my breath, I heard his home country of Armenia, gentle folk melodies, mourning for a lost way of life. It wasn’t just technique, there was such depth of feeling. I knew I had just heard a pianist who will be as great as Brad Mehldau. The busy Clore Ballroom went silent, rivetted by this slight figure hunched over the piano. Then he played an improvised piece with piano, voice, xylophone and electronics. Then What the waves brought combined piano, whistling and voice. Babies squealed in the crowd but we were transported to his native land-locked country for just a few minutes. He tried to get us to clap in the most difficult rhythm imaginable, we all failed dismally, raising my already soaring respect for drummers. He told us that he had a great respect for Armenian poetry which certainly added to the romance of La Petite Esperance.
Finally, Oddarrang from Finland, part of the Sound of Finland series. I reviewed Oddarrang’s Cathedral earlier this year here and I was really keen to see how their beautifully mixed, subtle sound with electronics would hold up in the ballroom. I need not have worried, the mix of instruments – guitars, cello, trombone, voice, drums and piano, and electronics stood up perfectly, the quiet bits silenced the crowd near the bar. We were treated to the UK premier of Self Portrait which started so quietly and then became very loud. It’s about a film called Self Portrait. Olavi explained that Finland is a quiet country, where silence is the default so it was inevitable that his music would have lovely delicate long spaces. People stayed in their seats for the 6pm set with Oddarrang, there was a real buzz of anticipation – Finland no longer seemed a gloomy country if it could create such magical sounds. We had loud sounds too – a rather frightening, menacing new track that they played in the 6pm set. There were noises like nails on a blackboard (ouch), deep rumblings and ghost-like sounds, and at one stage all the musicians appeared to be twiddling with knobs on gadgets! It bodes very well for their next album which will be released on Edition Records in August 2013.
We knew we were at a recording for radio as we had to applaud on request for sound levels. That wasn’t hard as we’d had an extremely good afternoon. After the gig I heard Kevin LeGendre tell a friend that he thought Olavi’s piano trio of ten years ago was one of the best he’d heard in Europe! And this was just my first gig of the London Jazz Festival 2012. It’s already top-notch, it can’t get better than this can it?