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Ian Briggs » 2012 » April

Gig Review: Onyx Brass, Bangor Town Hall, 26th April 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 27th April 2012 at 12:14 pm

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , , , | No comments

On Thursday evening, Bangor’s Town Hall played host to Onyx Brass in a concert at the council chambers, which provided a superb location for this five piece brass ensemble.

The group consists of players who play in some of the finest orchestras in the UK, and this was an opportunity for the audience to see something a bit different.

The programme consisted of a wide variety of classical, jazz and contemporary music ranging from fugues by Bach and Shostakovich, to modern commissions from Irish composer Andrew Hamilton (Slow Phrases Piece), and a jazz piece (Hamlet Stories) from baritone sax player Mick Foster.

The finale to the first act was a personal favourite: selections from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo. I’m a big Copland fan, and the three movements (Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz and the crowd-pleasing Hoe-Down) were beautifully recreated for brass quintet complete with foot-stomping percussion.

Acting as an interlude in the second half, the group performed Tim Jackson’s piece Anything But.  This consisted of four poems performed musically, without instruments, and included Spike Milligan’s “Teeth” and Carol Ann Duffy’s “Mrs Darwin”.  This was another great way to bring variety into the performance and was an unexpected piece of theatre which produced the biggest laughs of the night.

The playing itself was incredible: beautifully precise phrasing, full use of dynamic range, and an incredible tonal range that I didn’t realise was possible (spoken as a true woodwind player!) which was helped no-end by the amazing acoustics of the venue.

As someone who plays in a small ensemble, it was both fascinating and informative to watch the players interact with each other while playing; subtle directional movements and the ability to communicate during pieces with eye contact were lessons that all small-group players should take away.

A wonderful evening’s entertainment that provided laughs, insight and most of all, the chance to hear great music.

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Film Review: The Story of Film – An Odyssey

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 17th April 2012 at 9:32 pm

Categories: Films | Tags: , , , , | No comments

I’m just back from hearing Mark Cousins discuss his latest cinematic masterpiece “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” at the QFT in Belfast.

The last time I heard Cousins was at a screening of his last documentary film “The First Movie” which I wrote about here.  This was part of the Belfast Film Festival, at which Cousins also spoke at a discussion on censorship in film.  Having heard him previously, I was delighted to hear that he was appearing in Belfast again.

The evening started with a screening of a much-abridged version of the film (for it is not a TV series!).  This picked out some of the highlights of the 15-hour work and was followed by a wonderful discussion, with Cousins being questioned by fellow Belfast filmmaker Brian Henry Martin and members of the audience.

Isn’t it great to listen to someone talk so passionately about what they do?  This is exactly what we were treated to tonight, with Cousins speaking eloquently about content of his work, the difficulties and logistics of travelling the globe to film the movie, finding funding, and interviewing the directors, producers and actors who contributed to the footage.

Mark Cousins in discussion with Brian Henry Martin at the QFT

Mark Cousins in discussion with Brian Henry Martin at the QFT

He spoke about the great films that many of us won’t ever see: from Iran, Japan and Eastern Europe, and also touched on his interesting belief that every nation lacks belief in their own body of film; while we are quick to point out that most of what emerges from America is not high quality material, he says that many people from other countries say the same about their own national work.

On the subject of “The Story of Film…”, it was interesting to hear his response to criticism about his narration style (which I thought was great, and reflected the passion with which he created the film). It seems the less-than-favourable reaction was considerably less pronounced outside the UK. Sad that this should detract attention from the content of the film itself, containing over 1000 clips showing the history of innovation in cinema, which as Sukhdev Sandhu sums up perfectly in a comprehensive review in the Telegraph:

In a television landscape that fears international cinema or any movie deemed challenging or original, this selection deserves to be celebrated.

Ultimately the most enjoyable thing about hearing Mark Cousins talk about his work is his infectious enthusiasm about film. You get the impression that he could talk for days on the subject and not repeat himself.  It was great to see so many people turn out to hear and meet a brilliant local filmmaker.  A great evening, and the DVD box-set is on pre-order…

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Dave O’Higgins at the 606

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 8th April 2012 at 8:08 am

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , | No comments

We are currently spending some time in London, and last night saw us venture to the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea to see Dave O’Higgins.

The last time we went to the 606 it was to see the alto saxophonist Matt Wates play, and as this gig coincided with my birthday, I was delighted that one of the best tenor players in the country was playing this time round.

The gig was sold out and the performance didn’t disappoint. O’Higgins played as part of a standard quartet consisting of piano and rhythm section, and the sets consisted of a mixture of some of his tried and tested work, and some of his more experimental pieces. These newer works were adaptations of jazz standards which had been rearranged and retitled so as to give them just a hint of their original form.

The Dave O'Higgins quartet

The Dave O'Higgins quartet at the 606 club, London, April 7th.

The format of the music was fairly typical of modern jazz: an introduction followed by extended solo breaks on all instruments. This is a format I usually find a bit tiring in long sets but the solos were interesting enough, and the styles varied enough to keep me interested.

O’Higgins’ playing in particular was extraordinary: such fluidity and effortlessness belies the difficulty and imaginative content of the music; his improvisation is a masterclass in structure, movement and interaction with the band.  His technique involves playing with the chord structure in such a way as to rarely hit the ‘home’ notes, but pass through them often enough to make the listener comfortable with where his solo is heading. This also gives the sound a freedom and fluidity which is so hard to achieve.

On a technical front, O’Higgins uses a classic setup: a 1930s Conn tenor saxophone with remodelled keywork, and a fairly standard ebonite mouthpiece. This combination gave the sound such a rich, creamy tone, it is understandable why he sticks with a vintage instrument.

As with the overall feel of the performance, some of his solo improvisation had more of an experimental feel to it, not all of which was successful, but for the great majority of the time, it was a wonder to watch and listen to, full of both virtuosic playing and great tonal interpretation.

Top class musicians, great playing and interesting musical variety (including one slow number on soprano sax that was astounding) combined to make this an exceptional gig from one of the best sax players around – inspiration indeed for me to try to take my playing to different places…

…must practice harder!

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