Thursday, 8 November 2007
Mujician in concert, at last...
Tonight was the night of the gig I've been waiting for!! I made my way to the region's newest 'serious' music venue, The Sage, knowing that there was no possibility of disappointment. I can't even remember the last time I was lucky enough to catch Mujician live, but know that it was more than five years ago. Opportunities like this are now rare, though at one time I probably took the group for granted and could guarantee seeing them at least annually.
Tonight's performance was recorded for broadcast in January by BBC Radio 3, and the inspiring music I heard in the group's two sets would more than justify a commercial release on CD. The room was acoustically perfect, and this was Mujician at their most beguiling, powerful, raucous and transcendent - never have I heard them collectively play with so much focus and such scope. I can't recall them ever digging so deeply into late period Coltrane, either.
Paul Dunmall by and large played it straight, keeping his extended techniques in check out of deference to the needs of the music. There were of course times when he let fly with volleys of multi-phonics, split-tones and upper register shrieks, but for the most part he followed the line. He also left his bagpipes at home, sticking exclusively to what he does best - tenor and soprano saxophones.
This was the first time I've heard Rogers playing his custom made 7-string bass, and I must say that my first reaction was that I preferred his old 5-string model. Rogers remains one of the foremost players of free-jazz on the cusp of improv, but his former instrument seemed to anchor the lower end more firmly, and cut through the group's maelstrom with more precision too. I'm sure that the extra three strings, which can take the instrument into cello range, come into their own in one of his amazing solo performances, but at the risk of sounding slightly churlish it may not be the ideal tool for every Mujician performance.
Tony Levin had visibly aged since the last time I saw him play, but he is still as powerful and subtle as ever. He seems to be able to go from subtle shadings to a full-on assault at the flick of a wrist, and if the audience reactions I overheard during the interval are any guide then he was also the member of the group who made the biggest impact on the night.
Tippett, by contrast, never seems to age. He must have looked like a Victorian squire even when he was a teenager. Some even go as far as to suggest he wore the same jacket back in the '70s when he was a member of King Crimson. He was at his most modal and Tyner-esque tonight, the only previous occasion that I've heard him dig into this vein so deeply being the memorable Appleby festival set (probably a decade ago) where Evan Parker joined the group for the afternoon to trade musical blows with Dunmall. There's always an element of surprise whenever I hear Tippett, even when he does things that I've seen him do before. Somehow it sounds new and fresh each time, and although this may have something to do with only being able to see him play every two or three years, his music is so rich that I think it would take a long, long time to become jaded by it.
In 90 minutes of often sublime music I found myself transported in a way that only the best music can achieve. These moments rarely last for the entirety of a gig, and most of them, when I think back carefully and try to get some perspective, have involved Tippett. AMM have it, William Parker can captivate for long periods, no doubt Jarrett in the '70s would have done it if I'd been old enough to be there, and if you only see Han Bennink once in a blue moon, he can do it too.
Interestingly Jan Garbarek, who I see next Tuesday, also has it, albeit in a very different wrapping. That gig now looks like having an unexpected element of surprise. The word is that Eberhard Weber has suffered a stroke and has been replaced for this tour by Yuri Daniel. Leaving aside the unfortunate nature of the circumstances, this alteration to the well established group dynamics could be fascinating to observe. For now, however, my thoughts are still very much with Mujician, and I'm hoping that nothing can dislodge the memories of tonight's music too quickly. A crazy idea, but perhaps I should lay off listening to any other music for a few days, just to make sure?
And so to bed...