Tramway, Glasgow, 29th April 2006

A five-hour extravaganza of instrumental music featuring four bands:

Colditz

The opening band were a quartet called Colditz: keyboards, trombone, cello and viola (or maybe violin – I was a long way from the stage). Each number consisted of the keyboard player playing arpeggios, the cellist playing the melody, and the other two adding colour. A wee bit more variety in the arrangements would have gone down well. As it was, they were basically pleasant but not particularly engrossing.

Battles

Battles are a guitar-dominated instrumental quartet from the USA: three guitarists, two of whom double on keyboards, plus drums. The easiest way to describe them would be as a more jagged-sounding version of Mogwai. What sets them (and Mogwai) apart from earlier guitar-based improvising bands like Man or Television is the lack of long solos: it’s more about building textures through the interplay of the musicians. I initially enjoyed them, but found they got a bit samey as the set went on: they need to get a wider range of tempos into their sets, and in particular they need to learn that very quiet to very loud is a bigger and more dramatic dynamic range than loud to very very loud.

Steve Reid and Kieran Hebdan (FourTet)

I’d never heard of drummer Steve Reid before, but a bit of googling revealed that I’d unknowingly heard quite a few records that he played on. He was a house drummer with Motown in the sixties before moving on to play jazz with the likes of Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra.From what I could hear, he seemed a very good, subtle drummer, but unfortunately most of what he played was drowned out by Hebden’s electronic bleeps and squeaks. I enjoyed Hebden’s playing – which seemed to be made up of a mixture of purely electronic sounds and samples of instruments such as acoustic guitars – more than I thought I would, but he was far too loud, both in absolute terms and in relation to Reid’s drumming.

Sun Ra Arkestra

I saw the Arkestra at the Mitchell Theatre in the early 80s, when Sun Ra and John Gilmore were still alive. My reaction then was that they put on a great show, but the music itself didn’t make a great impression – it was a mixture of free-form noise and fairly cursory runs through old swing material.

Musically this gig, with the band led by veteran alto player Mashall Allen, was better, with a bluesy Mingus-like quality to much of the playing. It all seemed very loose and spontaneous, but was no doubt well-rehearsed and thought out in advance. The showmanship had been cut back a bit, but was still there: the glittery capes, the hats, the wandering through the audience while playing, the chants, the dancing and somersaults. There was no keyboard player – who could replace Sun Ra? – but Marshall Allen often played an electronic wind synthesiser instead of saxophone.

Maybe the earlier Ra show was more of an experience, but of the two times I’ve seen them, this is definitely the concert I’d like the CD of. Space IS the place.

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