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trioVD, The Vortex, London, 26/02/2010

Photography: Photograph of Chris Sharkey by Tim Dickeson.

by Tim Owen

March 21, 2010


There's a box-freshness about trioVD, and a vitality to their playing that distinguishes them from their often self-consciously iconoclastic predecessors.

London, Vortex
26 February 2010
Chris Sharkey; electric guitar
Christophe de Bézenac; alto saxophone
Chris Bussey; drums

Since I first noticed Chris Sharkey as a member of Matthew Bourne’s short-lived Electric Dr. M he has shaped up to be a significant figure on the British Jazz scene. He has since played with Pete Wareham’s Final Terror, and subsequently been incorporated into Wareham’s reconstituted Acoustic Ladyland, but it’s with his own Leeds-based group, trioVD, that Sharkey is making the biggest noise.

An electric trio clearly under the influence of John Zorn’s Slan trio, post-DNA Arto Lindsay, and New York’s 90’s ?downtown’ scene in general, those influences nevertheless shouldn’t be overstated. There’s a box-freshness about trioVD, and a vitality to their playing that distinguishes them from their often self-consciously iconoclastic predecessors. During his solo feature, it’s true, alto saxophonist de Bézenac’s indebtedness to Zorn was clear from his very posture as he stood one-legged, his left knee raised to plug the bell of his alto; it’s a move that may not be unique to Zorn, but one that’s nevertheless become a signature. Having said this, de Bézenac is no slavish acolyte of the New Yorker. His sound mostly lacks Zorn’s modulated shrillness, and on the rare occasions that he allows himself to stretch out somewhat he displays the melodic directness of one of Zorn’s heroes, Hank Mobley. Usually through, perhaps too often over the duration of a gig, de Bézenac peppers the jerky forward momentum of the trio’s music with plosive pops and squawks. The biggest criticism I could level against trioVD is that the concentration of brief shards of action and reaction that accumulate and are fashioned to drive the bands music ever forward threaten, in the long haul, to become curiously monotonous. That never happens, but nevertheless it’s best, when listening to these guys, to stay fully in the moment.

Sharkey’s style is more textural and atmospheric than the group sound initially implies. Although he uses a range of pedal-generated loops and effects he frequently reminded me of the economical, unadorned playing of John Scofield. Drummer Chris Bussey could probably claim the lion’s share of responsibility for the group dynamic, with his restless, hard-hitting precision. The relish with which he attacks his kit is infectious, and it’s tempting (but pushing it a bit) to reach for a Keith Moon analogy.

The group play some material written since the release of their Fill It Up With Ghosts album. One track, announced I think as Broke, featured a chanted chorus of “only dead fish go with the flow”, which could well serve the group as a motto. I’m always dubious about part-sung/part-spoken lyrics on alternative jazz records, and the few instances on Ghosts are borderline-cringe-worthy. In concert, however, the matiness of the group and the fun they’re evidently having with their material brushes any such reservations aside. Another new piece, Pet Shop Boys takes its title from an insult the group drew from a passing stranger (think Withnail & I, and “perfumed ponce”). As well as showing a nice line in self-deprecating humour the track also made for a tremendous climax that came close to aping, albeit obliquely, the repetitive beats of club music. The highlight of the night for me, however, was an extended, full-bodied surge through Kesh, one of the album’s more direct numbers in any case which, at the Vortex, they played relatively straight to emphasise its indebtedness to instrumental rock, with thrilling results.

As they seek to branch out, trioVD’s move to rock venues such as Islington’s Garage is surely a wise one if they are to find a crossover audience. The comfortably middle class South Bank has proven in the past altogether too staid for them. It’s always going to be great, however, to see the group in the intimate confines of venues such as the Vortex.

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