Petrels – Oli Barrett – initiated the musical proceedings at the Vortex on Monday night, in a double bill organised by Be Prepared. It was an impressive and enticing sight, one man surrounded by samplers, laptop and the necessary wiring to create his art, and I was in an eager mood for something aesthetically different to my usual jazz diet.
It was one set – around the 40 minute mark – accompanied by a looming video projection which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an isolated corner of the Tate Modern – all pastoral close-ups and blurred vision. The music opened with looped industrial echoes and subtle metallic chimes, eventually building to a mass of looming, charging bass thumps and stabbing synthesis. Petrels’ musical style is one of soundscapes and naturally occurring rhythms, whether they are short, ostinato-esque cells or ominous drones. It all equates to a tense wall-of-sound with you, the listener who has been eagerly coercing the music’s ascent, now, King Cnut style, trying to push back the waves. At times the droning onslaught got too loud, with the dynamics overbearing the content, so a limiter really wouldn’t have gone amiss at such junctures. Another slight criticism concerns the rather clumsy transitions between sections, which felt like bumps in an otherwise smooth road.
Just like Bisto, Barrett saved the best ‘til last, a banger of a tune fit for Fabric. The actual musical content wasn’t all too dissimilar to what had been heard previously, but the introduction of a kick drum on the crotchet – followed by the hi-hat on 2 and 4 – naturally gets the foot tapping. More explicit harmony of the uplifting pop variety – not necessarily a bad thing – contrasted well with the increasingly spliced and diced vocal utterances. Overall it was pretty inventive stuff.
However, Ronin were the real draw for me and they didn’t disappoint. Two guitars, electric bass and drums, this Italian quartet played music saturated with influences from some of my favourite non-jazz artists. I could hear the Spaghetti Western scores of Ennio Morricone, the galloping riffs of late Roy Orbison and the masculine sorrow of Chris Isaac. All instrumental, all gorgeous. At one point, pushing along the purposely twangy melody of the lead, the drummer created a real funky beat whilst using brushes. I love it when drummers do this, use brushes instead of sticks to rock-out. It creates a specific grainy thump, like a rock crashing onto sand. It’s one of my favourite parts of jazz drumming, when the likes of Elvin Jones smash the brush onto the snare when in the groove.
Comparing Ronin to their album – which I bought after the show – they’re a lot dirtier sounding live. The gruff of the guitar is lost amidst the EQ-ing and audio polish of the studio. Buy the album, the tunes are great, but man, catch them live!