19 January 2013

Jazz on a tightrope

I find any experimental or free jazz is music on a tightrope, so a night of four acts including French international Philippe Petite was going to be particularly so. Philippe was touring Australia with Shoeb Ahmad of helloSquare and he had been performing duo gigs with Shoeb on his highly effected guitar, but in the absence of turntables on loan in Canberra, they each performed solo.

Philippe’s show was a 50-minute DJ set and jazz tribute. This is the world of electronica and beats and dance. I’ve heard some on CD but the only DJs I’ve seen have been pretty inane selectors of tracks that they meagrely manipulate to flow one onto another, perhaps adjusting tempo or pitch. This was far more authentic and individual. Philippe stood there, in fairly deep dark, behind a laptop and with PA speaker to each side. The set started with hard edged tenor of the sixties, perhaps Joe Henderson and some Love supreme and other tracks recognised but not named. This was famed and much loved music of the cool and modern eras, the ‘50s and ‘60s, but visited as if from a distance. Echoed, sharply spun and snapped through other tunes. Not disrespectfully but certainly not as original. Or tenderly visited but distorted, electronicised, welcomed to a new century. Fascinating and respecting and historically respondent, perhaps knowledgeable, but of the contemporary. Stirred and shaken and clashed and distorted and a stunning blow to settled ears. I was loving the first part, feeling intrigued and refreshed. But then I felt it went too long. The jazz descended to smooth and simple harmonies and the distortions and manipulations seemed to become self-referential rather than respectful and interpretive. The audience thinned. It must have been hard to perform thus. This was a not a dance audience with its earthy, intuited involvement. This was a listening audience. I felt the music was increasingly viewed through a glass darkly. The jazz degenerated. Heavy house beats grew with more intense distortions and delays and occasional snap stops (were there part of the act or gear playing up?). It had me thinking of the complexity of acoustic sound. Did this suggest that electronica is essentially a poorer medium? Certainly I prefer real piano to e-piano, but I remain convinced that electronics have something different to offer. I thought of how I enjoyed the respect and excitement of the early part of the set. Then I realised how inert is a DJ presentation. Philippe himself was very involved, jogging and bobbing but he was the one moving feature on stage, lost behind and tied to the master laptop that controls us all. Eyes, too, lost to the screen. I walked around he back to see his screen. I don’t know what the software was. Several windows, a streaming image of the waveform, controlled with the touchpad, screen quite dark, I guess windows or dropdowns to select samples and processing effects. Interesting, I’d like to know more. I would have asked what software but I had Hippo and it was getting late. In the end, I reluctantly left during the set. I’d enjoyed and been enlivened by the first part of the set. The influences were worthy and the response respectful and the outcome modernising. But for me it went too long and decayed with poorer music choices and excessive processing. But while the time was right this was a fascinating and worthy re-vision of some very great music by a confident and professional performer. Glad I was there. Philippe Petite did a jazz DJ set at Smith's Bookshop.

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