Talibam! with Alan Wilkinson, Cafe Oto, London, 12/10/2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Reviewed by: Tim Owen
Talibam! came to London recently for a short season of post-punk(-jazz) collaborations with saxophonist Alan Wilkinson and a New York dance company.
Talibam! with Alan Wilkinson
Talibam! were in the mood for post-punk(-jazz) collaboration last week, first bringing improv energy to a couple of ‘punk ballerina’ Karol Armitage’s showcase events in the Dance Umbrella season, and then at Cafe Oto in an engagement with saxophonist and ‘punk jazz’ pioneer Alan Wilkinson.
Before I caught their Wednesday night performance at London’s Cafe Oto, Talibam! played a headline set at the tiny, grungy pub venue The Old Blue Last on the Monday, before relocating for two nights with Armitage’s company in the rather swankier, and slightly less tiny Queen Elizabeth Hall. There, the duo from New York—Matt Mottel (synth) and Kevin Shea (drums)—were merged into a quintet playing a live score by Rhys Chatham that summoned, according to the publicity, “the raw energy of punk’s wall of sound”. They bought some dancers along with them to Cafe Oto the next night, and there were rumours in the twittersphere of a dance intervention there too, but the band evidently decided against it. The prospect of their imminent collaboration with Wilkinson presumably didn’t need any spicing up.
Jazz Mann readers should need no introduction to Kevin Shea by now (I recently reviewed the new live album from his other main occupation, Mostly Other People Do The Killing, while Ian Mann reviewed a live MOPDTK show we both attended at the Vortex earlier this year). In the past he’s been even more of a wildcard performer with Talibam! as with MOPDTK, so it was surprising that on this occasion he kept to his drum stool and maintained a constant stream of rhythmic invention all night, without any madcap digressions or breakdowns. Yes, he played like a Sunny Murray acolyte with ADHD, constantly lashing the hi-hat while maniacally patterning the skins and rims, but he ensured that the set had a strong forward-flowing momentum. His playing and that of Mottel coursed in parallel trajectories, hymned by Wilkinson’s impassioned saxophonics.
Wilkinson initially came to my attention in the early ‘90s as a member of the often caustic free-jazz trio Hession/Wilkinson/Fell, which attracted the first attribution of the term ‘punk jazz’. His playing on both baritone and alto retains a no-nonsense sense of focus and discipline. If the ‘punk’ tag still fits it’s because his sound is marked by an astringency that’s also characteristic of American post-punk acts such as Black Flag. Wlkinson eschews stylistic extravagances, disdaining ostentatious curlicues and multiphonic or circular breathing effects, and never resorts to quotes from other musician’s works or allusions to other traditions. His sound can be surprisingly tender at times, but he mostly plays with a certain machismo, in forceful straight draughts. The only notable exceptions come when on a couple of occasions this night he reached into the upper register of his horn to join Mottel in mercifully brief, migraine-inducing unison shrieks.
Poorly disguised behind ridiculous green sunglasses, Mottel bops up and down on the balls of his feet throughout the set, fingering his moog with the ticklish rapidity of an electric guitarist’s hammer-ons. He displays a surprisingly light touch that bears the unmistakable traces of P-Funk veteran Bernie Worrell’s influence. When he does sustain or modulate a sound through his small array of effects it’s all the more effective for being a choice digression. His opens up the Talibam! sound to suggestive flirtations with elements of funk, sci-fi, pop and film music, but—at Oto at least—these remain merely suggestions, hints and allusions. Like Wilkinson and Shea, he keeps faith in the moment.
Despite their rep for iconoclastic tomfoolery, with Wilkinson on hand Talibam! plays with all due purposefulness. In forging an unexpectedly straightforward blend of the duo’s metalanguage and Wilkinson’s directness, they seem made for each other.
Talibam! (without Wilkinson) were back again with Armitage’s company Armitage Gone! Dance at Imperial College the following night, performing a live score to Armitage’s ‘The Watteau Duets’. The piece apparently “portrays the battle of the sexes as a war dance with a sense of humour”. I wish I could have seen it, but, as with the earlier Dance Umbrella events, I wasn’t aware of it in advance as the promoters apparently didn’t think to advertise the involvement of Talibam! beyond the dance listings.
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