Club Inégales, London, 16 April 2015
From water pipes and trains at night to consciously “dirty” improvisation, Tre Voci in the cutting-edge ‘Cello, Cello’ series impresses our reviewer
Club Inégales has hosted a short spring season, Cello, Cello, which has welcomed Matthew Barley, Oliver Coates and Alexander Baillie among others. The series drew to a close with Tre Voci: Torun Saeter Stavseng, Gregor Riddell and Colin Alexander.
The last two named are also composers, and their set opened with their own works. Riddell’s Hypoxia built a textured wall of sound, Scelsi-like, piling up exquisite almost-unisons towards a buzzing headrush before falling away to a melancholy solo reflection and dispersed, informal closure on pizzicato. Alexander’s piece had less direction but experimented more with extended bowing techniques to make the most of the instrument’s chameleonic possibilities of transformation; I heard banging water pipes and trains at night as well as the now rather standard imitation of guitar feedback, which was also a texture used (more sparingly) by Club Inégales’ music director, Peter Wiegold, in a wet-ink piece inspired by a Chinese mountain lake: texture-led again, with crystalline harmonics heading upwards toward a vanishing point.
Distinct albeit austere harmony set the new music in relief: An Agnus dei by Dunstable, and Ockeghem’s D’ung aultre amer, both arranged for three cellos by the ensemble themselves. On their recording, available here, the useful distinction between melodic vibrato and its chaste accompaniment is surer than it was on the night, though it was a fine idea to have the intonation of the Agnus done flexibly, like the spoken introduction to a song.
Lusher but hardly less organised harmony was on offer after the interval, with Canyons, written by Club Inégales’ resident pianist Martin Butler for the house ensemble and Tre Voci together. It so happened – and as Butler remarked afterwards, working on the interface between composition and improvisation is a high-risk business – that everyone had interesting things to do, and even though the instrumentation organised itself on the day, the long practice and expertise of Butler as a large-ensemble and orchestral composer seemed to inform the warmth of the piece, sufficiently confident in its long-term movement to give space to virtuoso birdsong riffs enjoyed by various ensemble members, notable among them Rowland Sutherland on flutes, Torbjorn Hultmark on trumpet and the alert and sensitive Irene Chatzisavas, guesting here from her day job in the violin section of the Luxembourg Philharmonic.
Wiegold kept everyone on their toes in The glow-worm glows by guitarist Joel Bell, drawing bright and pulsing riffs over an ostinato that threatened to but never quite overwhelmed the line. They finished with pure improvisation, though the material was consciously ‘dirty’ in origin, a feathered, discoloured fifth from Riddell’s cello, in which Saeter Stavseng came to take a starring role with some Norwegian blue harmony: strangely appropriate for this little gem of a club hidden beneath a firm of solicitors near Euston Station.
Club Inegales’ summer season opens on 18 June with an ‘Original Voices’ theme.