27 September 2008

Flavours over layers and a nice march

I’ve noticed that student music has been wonderfully varied recently. Not to say I don’t like standards; I do. But it’s exciting to hear new music, and doubly so when it’s so unpredictable and in such varying styles.

Matt Sykes presented his largish band, The Melds, last night as a Friday Night Live concert on ArtSound. Just the makeup of the band told you this was different: nine players, three guitars. Sounds interesting before you hear a note. Then it all starts with pedal bass, polyrhythmic drums, layers of guitar colours, organ pads, then a recursive melody on the horns, references to sustained grooves a la Bitches Brew. The band continued without a stop into another harmonically simple tune with repetitive trombone melody; again richly layered with complex tonalities, again with crossing rhythms from various instruments. I’m wondering, who’s conducting this? I’m also wondering why it is that trombone players are so often so simply and perfectly melodic. Continuing into thin, effected guitar chords with other guitar sounds layered over, and another simple, pensive, recursive melody and some sweet horn harmonies. A wonderful solo on trumpet; a stunning response on alto. Wailing un-guitar tones reminiscent of Scofield synth play and a ‘bone solo. Still no break; now three tunes running a long medley; perhaps 25 minutes. Hypnotic, soothing, emollient. A break for a Hymn for leaving; balladic, developing into a relatively bouncy two feel, and a blissful alto solo. And that organ again. But there’s no keyboard; just guitars. The other guitars are effected, but Matt Lustri’s more bizarre, toying with Mike Price’s Roland guitar synth on loan: pads, organs; unreal tones or tones only too real like Hammonds and even steel drums.

After the break, a bass solo intro, and those steel drums just making the lightly swinging Caribbean tune sound the part. This is where we noticed the good humour. Lots of guys jumping and laughing. This is a group of students, after all. Prime of life stuff. Mates having a ball but musically serious despite the jocularity. Then something that verged on the more mainstream, and another searing alto solo from Joe Lloyd. Then a bouncing European march, a complex piece reminiscent of the great Carla Bley: Simon Milman’s Explorations in clown music. The concert ended with a seemingly free improvisation of reversed sounds and cacophonies. I was in the studio at this time. Simon was conductor and guide; Valdis was the stentorian voice calling the end … to considerble mirth! The end to a fabulously entertaining and category-challenging concert. Great work, guys. A blowout! Loved it.

The Melds are led by Matt Sykes (drums) with Simon Milman (bass), Matt Lustri (synthesiser guitar), Adam Guzowski (guitar and effects), Andy Campbell (guitar and effects), Valdis Thomann (trombone), Reuben Lewis (trumpet), Joe Lloyd (alto saxophone) and guest Hugh Deacon (percussion).

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