Review: Lauren Bush Quartet Bring Sunshine, Charm And Frim Fram Sauce To The Elgar Room


Perhaps it was the singer’s setlist, which ranged from ‘O Pato’, a light-footed samba about a dancing duck, to Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’, or her left-field introductions to tunes like ‘Love for Sale’ and ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’, but there was something charmingly quirky about this late night appearance from Lauren Bush and her quartet. A young Canadian vocalist now resident in London, Bush’s claim to fame is a performance of ‘Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise’ which has racked up over 100,000 views on YouTube, enough to land her a gig at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room and a supremely talented new band comprising pianist Liam Dunachie, double bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado (winner of the 2014 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize from the Royal Academy of Music) and drummer David Ingamells (a 2013 Yamaha Jazz Scholar).

Opening with a straightforward rendition of ‘The Song is You’, Bush sounded less assured that she does on her YouTube hit, but she found her stride on ‘The Frim-Fram Sauce’, a raunchy blues through which she scatted and growled to the delight of the audience. ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ and ‘O Pato’ were further highlights and it was clear from the confidence of her delivery and the neatly resolving lines in her improvisations, that Bush knew the changes inside out.

More confident still were the rhythm section, who played with sensitivity and skill throughout, each player offering something different when it came to the solos. Ingamells kept things short and sweet, trading fours with the singer and livening up a rendition of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ with drum breaks and a New Orleans-style street beat. Dunachie contributed twisting lines and Simcock-like harmonic exploration, while Mullov-Abbado took inspiration from the tunes themselves, referencing and reworking their familiar melodies on the worn fingerboard of his bass.

It was when the group tried to experiment that they came a little unstuck. A version of ‘My Romance’ re-imagined as a waltz took a while to settle down while a ‘funk’ rendition of ‘Love for Sale’ was something of a stylistic no man’s land until the head out. But, with ‘You’re Nearer’, a wistful ballad on which Bush’s voice was at its fullest, they recovered admirably, before closing with a cheery rendition of ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’. Described by Bush in another of her musings as being an antidote to British weather, it was a strong finish and a welcome one on a cold, drizzly night in west London.

– Thomas Rees


Review: Verneri Pohjola Matches Beauty With Bullishness At The Forge

Were it not for a smattering of concert-goers on the front row and a handful more who slunk in midway through the first number, ducking their heads beneath the bank of high-spec video cameras at the back of the room, the Forge in Camden would have felt like the meeting place of an exclusive club. Label executives, artists and jazz industry insiders were out in force and if it sounds like we were all privy to a secret that’s because we were. It’s a secret called Bullhorn, a new album by Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and, on the evidence of last night, it’s a secret you’ll want to be in on.

Pohjola’s first release on the Edition Records label, Bullhorn isn’t out until February, but that didn’t stop the trumpeter and his quartet, completed by pianist Aki Rissanen, bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen, from playing it back to back as part of a preview and live recording that made it clear just what all the fuss was about. In part it’s the strength of Pohjola’s melodies; the tropical lilt of ‘Girls from Costa Rica’; ‘Another Day’, a gently swinging waltz with a soaring refrain; ‘Bullhorn’ and ‘The End is Nigh’ with their soulful, folkloric leanings; and the gleeful chaos of ‘Nano Machines’, a schizophrenic burner that was among the highlights of the second set. But there was more to it than that. Interspersed between numbers were poignant improvisations, the first – and strongest – of which saw the trumpeter playing softly into the piano, stirring up a celestial chorus of overtones, to a backdrop of rattles and textural kit playing.


There were snatches of clever orchestration too, from stops and catches to precipitous drops in dynamic and riffs that emerged seamlessly from soloistic flights. And then, of course, there was Pohjola’s captivating, kaleidoscopic sound. A sandpaper rasp at one extreme, airy and flute-like at the other, it allowed his solos to be both vulnerable and bullish, adding new colours to the set. If anything was lacking, it was interplay with the rhythm section. At times it felt as if they were playing for, rather than with, Pohjola, leading to the odd one-sided exchange and a few wandering moments during passages of collective improvisation. But I’m splitting hairs. The secret’s out and if Bullhorn sounds this good on record, come February, it’ll be a worse kept secret still.

– Thomas Rees

– Photos by Aga Tomaszek


Review: Match&fuse Fest Gets Physical At Vortex And Café Oto

A globe-trotting celebration of all things improvised and alternative dreamt up by members of funky experimental jazz-prog band WorldService Project, Match&Fuse Festival ended its three-night run in suitably explosive style on Saturday night, with a total of nine bands playing alternating sets at east London venues Café OTO and the Vortex. After appearances from the likes of Shabaka Hutchings and James Allsopp on Thursday and Friday, it was down to young Norwegian improvisors Wolfram Trio to kick-start the finale. Alto player Halvor Meling hurled himself straight into the action, letting fly with scrambling lines and altissimo wails, as drummer Jan Martin Gismervik carved into his high-hat, leaving Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson’s bass to provide some warmth amidst the frostbitten sonic tundra.

From there, shifts in colour and intensity, twisted bass harmonics, broken swing and passages of nordic melancholy held the audience transfixed. There were new sounds too. Over the patter of Gismervik’s fingertips on the snare, Dietrichson used the heel of his bow to create trembling harmonics, before grabbing a cloth from behind the fingerboard and sliding it down the strings to make them shiver and scream. He broke his bridge in the process, to wild applause, and left Gismervik and an exhausted looking Meling to wrap things up.

Over at Café OTO the dream start continued with a performance from the Lana Trio and special guest John Butcher. Sparser and more brooding, their improvised set featured rasping drones from trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø and some superb contributions from Butcher that sounded uncannily like birdsong. But then the quality took a dip. Prog-outfit Twinscapes and Edinburgh-based trio Free Nelson Mandoom Jazz (no joke) favoured volume over interest and variety, an approach that wore thin pretty quickly. Jazz troupe Lunch Money were better, splashing dancey beats through puddles of electronics, and an improvised set from Monkey Plot and reeds-player Frode Gjerstad brought some nice moments, though the development felt a little forced rather than spontaneous and organic.

But when The Physics House Band (pictured top), an experimental trio featuring Adam Hutchison on bass, Sam Organ on guitar and an ear-defender clad Dave Morgan on drums, took the stage we were back in business. A series of thunderous hooks and apocalyptic drum fills left a room full of headbangers battered, bruised and elated. Ears ringing, I made it back to Café OTO for The Eirik Tofte Match&Fuse Orchestra, an improvising ensemble featuring performers from across the festival.

Their midnight march between venues was a highlight, largely because of the look of bewilderment and abject horror on the faces of passersby and the hilarity that ensued when the band – plus audience, plus enterprising Gillett Square alcoholics, some of whom had been swept up in the proceedings – had to force their way back into the Vortex despite the best efforts of the bouncer. It was an act that the last group of the night, the double trombone-wielding quintet Snorkel, couldn’t quite follow. A chaotic centre piece in a brilliant finale, it put a smile on my face that even a 3am night bus and the drunken antics of a man in immodestly low-slung sweatpants failed to extinguish, and it’s hard to think of a bigger compliment than that.

– Thomas Rees

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Matadero Madrid

A former slaughterhouse in the south of Madrid, Matadero is fast earning a reputation as one of the most exciting arts venues in Europe, aided by creative programming and a fiercely contemporary setting that’s as chilling as it is beautiful

Taller. Interior

There’s a passage in For Whom the Bell Tolls about prophecy and the smell of death. It’s a smell that consists of three parts, writes Ernest Hemingway (putting words in the mouth of Pilar, a Spanish civil war fighter and gypsy mystic) and recreating it is a messy business. First, you must head out to sea. ‘Put your nose against the brass handle of the screwed-tight porthole on a rolling ship that is swaying under you so that you are faint and hollow in the stomach and you have part of that smell,’ he writes. You’ll find another, ‘the odor of wet earth, the dead flowers, and the doings of the night,’ at the botanic gardens in Madrid where prostitutes once plied their trade against the railings. And the remaining part? For that you must go down to the city’s matadero early in the morning. ‘Wait for one of the old women who go before daylight to drink the blood of the beasts that are slaughtered. When such an old woman comes out…hold her to you and kiss her on the mouth,’ then you will have it.

At the time Hemingway was writing, the elegant naves that line the north bank of the Manzanares river housed Madrid’s largest livestock market and slaughterhouse. But, just as the botanic gardens have long been prostitute-free and the blood of freshly slaughtered cattle has, despite its supposed health benefits, ceased to appeal to the city’s elderly residents, a lot has changed. Visit the site today, and you’ll still find rooms divided by heavy plastic curtains and interior walls of crumbling concrete and sheet metal. You can still see the cavernous refrigeration unit with its ribbed floor tiles and fire blackened ceiling and look out across a plaza filled with strangely beautiful warehouses built from sandstone, red brick and patches of coloured mosaic. The grim machinery and the taint of death, however, are long gone.

In the late 1980s, town council bureaucrats moved into the site’s administrative buildings. Just a few years later, the Spanish National Ballet and National Dance Company were leaping about the former cattle stalls, converted into their new headquarters by architect Antonio Fernández Alba. And, in the last decade, the majority of the remaining warehouses, covering an area of 55,000m2 in total, have been transformed into Matadero Madrid, one of Europe’s most innovative centres for culture and the arts.

Hailed as the ‘cultural future’ of the city by the Spanish press and the ‘place that all contemporary Spanish artists want to see their work exhibited’, the centre aims to promote dialogue between disciplines, provide funding and support for new artistic projects, and to help strengthen Madrid’s identity as a modern cultural metropolis.

To that end, its activities extend to all areas of the arts. Three of the central warehouses have been taken over by the distinguished theatre company Teatro Español, and have staged regular productions since opening in 2007, among them La cortesía de España by Lope de Vega and the Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Closeby you’ll find the Cineteca, a cutting edge arthouse cinema complex that specialises in documentaries and independent releases both from Spain and overseas, which holds the Documenta film festival in the first two weeks of May each year.

The vast spaces between the warehouses have also been put to good use and provide the setting for several of Madrid’s foremost music festivals. The Dia del la Musica, which takes place in June, packs thousands of party goers into Plaza Matadero, the complex’s main square, for sets from pop acts, rock bands and DJs. Local groups are always there in force, but previous festivals have seen appearances from Two Door Cinema Club and James Blake.

In May you can catch world class funk and soul bands at annual festival Black is Back. This year’s incarnation featured up-and-coming Spanish group Freedonia alongside US legends Swamp Dogg, and Martha Reeves, the voice behind Motown smash hit ‘Dancing in the Street’.

Casa del Lector (‘the house of the reader’) is the latest addition to the complex. Under the umbrella of the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation, a fund for the promotion of literature established by one of Spain’s most important 20th century publishers, it holds regular exhibitions, along with film screenings, lectures and book presentations given by leading authors and literary specialists. Recent events have included a digital installation displaying treasures from the National Library of Israel and an award-winning exhibition on the Villa of the Papyri, an ancient library discovered beneath the volcanic ash that buried the Roman city of Herculaneum.

Then there are Matadero’s contemporary art exhibitions. Scattered about the complex, they’ve ranged from miniature landscapes constructed from cryogenically frozen plants, to collaborative warehouse takeovers by groups of international artists, slumbering crop sprayers adorned with striped canopies and hanging baskets, and video installations tackling themes like propaganda and capitalism.

On top of all that, there’s a centre for contemporary design and another coordinating city wide outreach projects. The slaughterhouse’s old water tower has been converted into a species deposit for plants and there are plans to create a garden in an empty patch of land near the site’s eastern entrance. In fact, so lively and ambitious is Matadero’s programming, if it falls under the umbrella of the arts or so much as touches on creativity, you’re likely to find it here. Just don’t come looking for blood-thirsty old women or the smell of death.

Matadero Madrid, Paseo de la Chopera 14, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 17 73 09 | | Open Tuesday to Friday 16.00 – 21.00, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays 11.00 – 21.00. Closed on Mondays | Entrance to the site and to many of the exhibitions is free.