silence blossoms + grew quartet, st margaret's, whalley range

While I'm reviewing (in many ways a fairly useless occupation) I should take the opportunity to point you in the direction of Disconcert Manchester (twitter, facebook), people actually doing something useful in pointing you toward gigs you might enjoy.

So, another gig at St Margaret's in Whalley Range. This time Silence Blossoms and Grew Quartet. A little sparsely attended.

If you haven't been before, like Sacred Trinity and St Philip's in Salford, St Margaret's is another Anglican church that allows its space to be used for gigs.

The church isn't as architecturally interesting as St Philip's (which is amazing), but the acoustics are decent for a church. Not intrusively echoey.

Mostly Buried Bones and Tubers Music arrange gigs there (more links for your favourites, you're welcome). I've seen drone, electronic noise, relatively conventional song or groove-based sounds, jazz, improv, tabletop electronics, and a bunch of other stuff at St Margaret's. The gigs there (and elsewhere, organised by the same people) are well worth attending if the less trodden paths interest you - or if you're just a little bored of guitardrumsbassmememe poprockindie whateverthefuck you can see anywhere anytime*.

So what the fuck was it like then? Let me start by misleading you. Silence Blossoms were up first, and through most of their set something was nagging at me. Elements of the sound were familiar, but from where? Eventually I pinned it down, I was being reminded of Tilt/The Drift/Bish Bosch-era Scott Walker.

But like I say, that's misleading. For a start Hanna Olivegren makes less use of recitative, and a little more of extended vocal technique than Scott Walker. And although the lyrics are based around poems, they generally seem to be of a less knotted and arcane nature than Walker's writing (which I prefer, your mileage may vary). Most crucially, musically they're coming from a different (arguably more contemporary) milieu than Walker. They also certainly have more in common with jazz.

Jazz, tabletop electronics, and improv are better, more accurate reference points. The songs tended to start quietly, often with electronics, an instrument, and voice making similar sounds before heading in different directions.

It was mainly at the beginning of songs that vocalisations other than straight singing were deployed. It created a sense of the pieces being almost improvised into being from nothing.

I really enjoyed the set, but at the same time I felt like something was missing. For me, despite the electronics, extended vocal technique and contemporary feel, it was overly polite and tasteful. Well-mannered in a way that I don't want art to be. There were no missteps, but at the same time no shocks or disruptions.

Would I listen to them again? Sure. Would I recommend them? Of course. Am I likely (at the moment) to add them to my regular listening? Maybe not.

But again that's just my opinion. No alarms and no surprises. But the same could be said of Grew Quartet, who I far preferred.

Again, jazz/improv in flavour, and again no great jolts. And yet the music felt somehow denser. Not in the sense of heaviness, but in the sense that there seemed to be more going on. Different players would seem to take the lead, before falling back and letting the next emerge.

Closing my eyes didn't create gentle, unified, slowly evolving images as Silence Blossoms had. Instead rapid sequences of shifting images flashed in front of me. The music always seemed to be shifting and mutating.

Consequently it's a little harder to describe Grew Quartet. Especially without resorting to cliche.

All I can say is the music felt alive, even during moments of quiet it seemed to pulse and move. It felt (accurately or otherwise) like there was a constant negotiation and testing between the players. Occasionally there were brief moments that felt like more familiar and conventional jazz, but they tended to be subsumed into (for me) more interesting developments.

Those cliched descriptions I wanted to avoid using then: there were, from piano especially, fistfuls of notes thrown into the mix. The instruments were played in their full extent: the body of the double bass scraped, strings of the piano plucked directly, the bass clarinet fingering and breath sometimes foregrounded, percussion sometimes clustering densely, sometimes accumulating a huge array of sounds, sometimes receding to nothing.

And there was a lot more to it than that. As I said I spent the set lost in the quick succession of images the music created in my mind.

Again I would definitely recommend you give them a listen, and preferably live.

Please do check out the various links I provided for more information on the musicians, and details of other stuff happening in Manchester and beyond. Above all, get out there supporting musicians and artists.

*I mean a lot of it's nice enough and all, and people have stretched the medium to make interesting sounds, but 60 years down the line it's mostly tired and played out. The most worthwhile mutations seem to be offshoots of offshoots that borrow from other traditions.


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