Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Vula Viel and James Maddren Quartet at the Jazz Nursery

This double bill was intense. One word that came up a lot in the after-chat: Vibey. Viby? Vibey. Powerful, creative music resonating from deep within the wooden belly of the 1973 replica of Sir Francis Drake's 16th century galleon, Golden Hinde. Here's a belated write-up of the two bands that played: Bex Burch's Vula Viel and James Maddren's Quartet (minus one).

Vula Viel

Vula Viel has always had something to teach the audience about their central elements of West African dance music, but Bex has hit her stride in expressing exactly what it is she's up to. Sure, there's something authentic here, but it really shouldn't be confused with purity. Bex has created something massive by embracing this amazing scene she's found in London, and the handful of players she has brought together have embraced her music to the same extent. Everyone involved is driven and inspired - the results are so powerful that I would insist everyone see them live this year.

The music itself has developed a lot since first seeing them play in June last year. They've got tighter and more communicative, but overall it feels like they've really found their own voice as a band. And also Dan Nicholls has this badass bass module now. It's so heavy that in the wrong hands it could easily have flattened everything else, but Dan's groove is so spot on it feels lively. It's like seeing the Incredible Hulk do gymnastics.

The tiny wooden stage left her without enough room to bounce in the way we have come to expect from her, but somehow, keeping all this energy in such a cold, tight space made everything about the experience that much more intense.

And there's a record coming produced by Matt Calvert. Awesome. Just awesome. There are some photos from the session on the hashtag #VulaVielRecording.

James Maddren Quartet

I was disappointed when I heard that Mike Chillingworth couldn't make this date, I had just that morning been revelling in my excitement at the lineup. I still look forward to being able to see the quartet in its entirety. That said, the trio with Calum Gourlay and Julian Siegel was something I didn't want to miss.

There was a power cut on the boat, and for most of their set, they were illuminated only by the audience's phones shining down on them from the cutaway to the upper deck. It was very cold and very dark, but the music was warm and brilliant, drawing a deep, meditative focus from the crowd.

James built and controlled tension and texture throughout the set, implying a rich harmony with the two melodic voices of tenor sax and bass. It was an example of what small-ensemble improvisation can be at its best: working within the composition, within the arrangement, using those elements to build something fresh, moving, and challenging - right in front of the audience's wide eyes.