The room is packed to capacity as the band walk onstage dressed formally in a black suit and black shirt, around them is a soft purple haze of light. Erik Espen (Piano and compositions) and Andy Sheppard (Tenor Sax) are clearly the main features of the performance, with epic solos and moments of completely solo piano features. However, you cannot dismiss the rest of the band. Andreas Bye’s (Drums) use of complicated rhythms never over power the music, as for the majority of the night he uses ‘broomsticks’; drum sticks made from a collection of small ‘twigs’ bound together. Lars Tormond Jenset (Double Bass) beautiful bowing on the piece ‘1974’ is a highlight of the show.
Each piece clears the 10-minute mark, with developing themes that allow the melodies to not tire. My favourite part of the performance was during the second piece, named after Epsen’s hometown (I will not attempt to spell the title). This was a transfixing piece where I was only brought back to reality by a surprised spluttering of appreciative applause. There have been moments when I have felt truly transported by live music, and this was indeed one of them. As the performance comes to a close, the crowd erupts into applause; banging their feet on the ground and causing the band to perform their encore of ‘Home’.
Entering the room, your eyes are drawn to a table filled with prizes from alcohol and chocolate to bath sets. In the centre, is an old bingo machine and a jug of water and to the side is a large drum set up including different sizes gongs and a huge concert drum. The performance opens with a short duo set by Mark Sanders (Drums) and John Edwards (Double Bass). They begin together aggressively and as two soloists playing at the same time as though battling against each other before allowing more space. Edwards is a very expressive player; quickly moving across the whole height of the instrument as he switches stealthily between using his hands and the bow. At times, instead of strumming with the bow, he gently hits the string allowing it to bounce off it.
Not to be confined by what is conventionally viewed as the role of the drummer, Sanders uses a range of pitched gongs filling the register that the double bass just doesn’t reach. Together they are unique and often uncomfortable. At brief moments, a short piece takes shape amid the mist of the chaos before it is pulled in another direction.
Next is a solo piece by Laura Cole (Piano) who starts strong but slow. She begins by arpeggiates her phrases giving a distinctly classical feel to her work before developing her piece. She toys around with the listeners expectations; her phrases begin beautifully before turning when she plays a note just slightly away from where you expected her to go. Continually lulling the audience into a false sense of security before doing it all again.
After a brief interval, the main performance begins. Mrs Boyes and Sanders are ready on stage however there is a sudden mass confusion about the rules of bingo; Mrs Boyes does not seem amused. The game is quick paced and is accompanied by a quiet drumming at first. By the beginning of the third game it is more intrusive and as Sanders hits the concert drum the audience jumps from their seat instinctively. Mrs Boyes is your sharp-tongued grandma; kind and warm but will not put up with you messing around.
Both Cole and Edwards return to stage for the last game. As the performance concludes, the audience shout for another game, and although some of the band appears to decline, Mrs Boyes accepts bringing out more prizes from her goody bag for the audience and ripping up extra bingo books. Trying to concentrate on the game was definitely hard with everything that was going on and, at times, it felt as though the musicians where trying to make it harder. This experience was a lot of fun as it created surprisingly thrilling game of bingo; however, to do this, there was certainly an element of stress in the air.
In near total darkness, Chris Sharkey is alone with his guitar, fiddling with an endless array of knobs and buttons from his assorted electronics. He begins softly creating the feeling of moving sound flooding across the room. At moments the speakers cause the raised seating to shudder with vibrations. He sits pensively looking down, backlit by two free standing light sticks. At times the music can be calm before turning quickly and becoming piercing and uncomfortable. He certainly does not shy away from extremely loud sounds which is why it was a atmospheric experience but I would definitely recommend ear plugs!!
For the main act, the room is well lit and at the front of the stage an easel is set up. The six-piece band, made up of two trios, J Frisco and Archipelago, stand in a semi-circle. They are dressed casually with shirts, t-shirts, odd socks and flip flops, with the unifying theme of dark colours. They begin together with Faye MacCalman (Sax) conducting hits. As they move into heavy riffs, the whole group moves their bodies. A few minutes into the performance Gina Southgate begins painting the band. It is an interesting experience to watch an artist paint live and see how the sound influences her.
In the second piece, just as you are settled into the groove, MacCalman raises her arm and the band breaks into manic free improvisation before settling back again; giving the feeling of composed Jazz Rock with moments of mass hysteria. The energy onstage is captivating and even when they are not playing, the band are completely immersed in the music, dancing around. John Pope’s (Electric Bass) use of pedals manipulates the sound in such as way as you must look to be sure who is playing.
A notable moment of the afternoon was in the fourth piece when Pope and Megan Roe (Guitar) take a simple riff and develop it into a conversation with each other, playing it at different speeds and catching the end of each other’s phrases. Also, in the final piece, when all the musicians began singing in a rather choral fashion before taking the music to a completely new and exciting place.
JazzLeeds, 11 Gledhow Park Drive, Leeds LS7 4JT