Sunday, July 24, 2011

London Improvisors Orchestra @ Cafe Oto, London 7/3/11

I scoped out the area that day.  It's the latest hip Bohemian area in the city, Dalston.  There's a lot of live music around there.  The Vortex was the jazz club I wanted to go to the previous night but didn't venture to do so.  I did go by during the day and they were starting a Sunday reggae DJ downstairs where they have a cafe? Coffee shop.  The area is loaded with ethnic food and hip coffee shops.  I stopped by Cafe Oto that day as I heard that's where to go for creative music.  I liked what I saw and they served good stuff.  The kitchen was closed or I would have had lunch.  The pastries looked great at all the cafes.

First I went with some friends to Forro social dancing in the Holborn part of London.  The band wasn't coming on until later, so it was just a DJ.  It was a fun experience, but I really wanted to get to Dalston so I bailed.

I got to Cafe Oto shortly before they were going to do the 2nd and final set.  Once a month on Sundays, it's an improv orchestra jam session if you will.  There were about 26 musicians in total.  They each had a piece of paper that looked like just a bunch of squares (a grid about 10 columns wide and 4 rows deep).  I couldn't tell what was in the squares, but it must have been some kind of chart that only the improvisers could understand.

I enjoyed it a lot.  It was very interesting how it worked.

First David was conducting.  After a while he took a seat and picked back up his clarinet.  After a bit of free for all, one of the 2 contra bass players came up and did some conducting.  Once he went back to playing it was a free for all again.  I saw one of the 2 guitar players get up and go in the back during that free for all.  I went to the bathroom and when I came back, the guitar player was conducting and a bass clarinet was standing up front playing.  He was good, and I guess he only plays when the guitar player conducts or something.  Once that ended, the entire thing ended and that was it.  About an hour.

There was a bass bassoon, which you don't see every day.  It droned a little like a didgeridoo .  I found this female flute player intriguing.  She plays it differently.  I was actually surprised she was playing it like a clarinet, holding it lengthwise and blowing through the top while pressing the keys.  I've seen people do many interesting things with their instruments, but this hadn't even occurred to me.  She also played it like a flute, but using only the top half - the bottom was not attached.  She sometimes even played it the regular way.

The woman with the percussion table was interesting.  I also liked the contra basses.  The trumpets were good.

It was good and fun to see it in London.

Regular meeting of The London Improvisers Orchestra drawing on London's rich pool of improvising musicians. The LIO is part of a long and varied heritage that stretches back to the free-jazz big bands of Chris McGregor and Mike Westbrook, the intuitive ensembles of John Stevens and purely improvising groups such as the Continuous Music Ensemble.

History of The London Improvisers Orchestra

Improvising is normally a small group activity. However, there is often the temptation to explore the possibilities of larger ensemble improvisations. For instance, in London in the 1960s and 1970s, there were the free jazz-type big bands of Mike Westbrook and Chris McGregor, the contemporary composition-oriented ensembles of Barry Guy and Paul Rutherford, and the more intuitive experiments of John Stevens. There were also purely free improvising large groups such as the Continuous Music Ensemble (which became The People Band) and the Alternative Music Orchestra.

The London Improvisers Orchestra is thus part of a long and very varied heritage. An orchestra was put together for a Butch Morris 'London Skyscraper' tour of Britain in the autumn of 1997, which left the participants feeling exuberant with the experience of improvising in a large ensemble. However, some of them felt that there were other possibilities that had not been fully explored on the tour. A group (instigated by Steve Beresford, Evan Parker and Ian Smith, later joined by Caroline Kraabel and Pat Thomas) decided to keep the orchestra together, and see what could be achieved under the direction of some of the participating musicians.

Some of the musicians in the original Skyscraper project didn't continue with the exploration, while other musicians who weren't on the tour subsequently decided to join in. The number of personnel varies somewhat (between 12 and 40) depending on people's availability, but has always embraced a diverse mixture of ages and experience.
For nine years, up until quite recently, the LIO had a first-Sunday-in-the-month residency at the Red Rose in Seven Sisters Road. Meeting early on this Sunday, any LIO member could rehearse and try out new ideas for determining pieces of music that essentially are improvisation-based, and/or simply develop their conduction skills with signals and signs that have been added to over the years and are now well established. These pieces are then mixed in with freely improvised pieces and make up a performance. A recent visitor to one of these sessions was amazed at how the musicians listened to each other, pointing out that such sensitivity was unlikely to happen in any other city.
The members of the Orchestra are a small percentage of the remarkable pool of improvising musicians based in London, which Evan Parker rightly calls "the richest music scene in the world".

LIO band members can include:
Ian Smith, Roland Ramanam - trumpets, Alan Tomlinson, Robert Jarvis - trombones, Catherine Pluygers - oboe, Jacques Foschia - bass clarinet, John Rangecroft - clarinet, Neil Metcalfe - flute, Terry Day - wooden flutes, words and poetry, Adrian Northover - alto and soprano saxes, Lol Coxhill - soprano sax, Chefa Alonso - soprano sax and frame percussion, Caroline Kraabel - alto sax and voice, Evan Parker - tenor & soprano saxes,Barbara Meyer, Marcio Mattos, Hannah Marshall, Ute Kanngiesser - cellos, Christoph Irmer, Charlotte Hug, Phillip Wachsmann, Mardyah Tucker, Alison Blunt, Sylvia Hallett, Susanna Ferrar, Amanda Drummond, Ivor Kallin – violins and/or violas, John Edwards, Dave Leahy - double basses, Rodrigo Montoya - shamisen, Roberto Sassi, Dave Tucker - electric guitars, John Bisset - guitar, B J Cole - pedal steel guitar, Tony Marsh - drum set, Javier Carmona - drums and percussion, Orphy Robinson - steel pan/ percussion, Adam Bohman - amplified percussion, Eugene Martynec - electronics, Steve Beresford, Veryan Weston - pianos, Ashley Wales - conduction.

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