Wednesday 17 October 2012

Mike Walker and Stuart McCallum

The Sandbar, Oct 16, 2012 

Mike Walker’s journey from fire-breathing guitar virtuoso to inner-directed exquisite melodist is fascinating, and perhaps can be better gauged in an intimate pub gig like this (the Sandbar is virtually my local!) than the concert halls he plays with jazz supergroup The Impossible Gentlemen. Here his partner is Stuart McCallum, with whom Walker meshes intuitively (he was once his pupil). He also embraces McCallum’s electronic box of wonders. 

The music is characterised by focus and restraint, and largely improvised. ‘Where Do We Go’ by Bill Frisell sets the tone with its space, spontaneity and beauty. Walker has gone far beyond “look-at-my-fingers-they’re still attached-to-my-hand” dazzle. Technique now is a means to an end. There are some  standards - ‘Black Narcissus’ and ‘All the Things You Are’ - but these are re-imagined and re-sculpted into fresh shapes.   

The third tune, an extempore excursion, goes from whirling dervish to intense ballad. Walker’s modus operandi is evident: weep and dig deep. Yet it’s McCallum who largely sets the terms for the first set. The fourth tune is based around a drifty motif, which loops electronically and is overlaid with a counter-melody by McCallum as Walker obsessively hammers percussive harmonics. Then he crafts a solo with a biting, skewed melody. Anything McCallum can achieve by synthetic means, Walker can replicate with nylon and blood. McCallum proposes chilled-out bliss; Walker offers sublimated yearning. 

Well, don’t say synthetic, say rather electro-acoustic, which fits the music to a tee. Other pairs of opposites spring to mind: bitter-sweet, yin-yang, introspective, and, well, introspective. Anything but aggressive. And how at odds with the braying noise of the drinkers next door (a thin partition cannot keep the noise out) and how at odds with the world itself. The journey is spiritual and selfless. 

Walker prevails in the second set. There’s less electronics, the tunes are more composition-based and less improvised, and some even come from the Impossible Gentlemen’s repertoire (was that ‘Wallenda’s Last Stand’?). A new, untitled piece, known only as ‘The French One’ possibly because of its distant, unconscious echoes of Django. The familiar melody of ‘All The Things You Are’ only gradually reveals itself, broken down by patterns, and devices and odd textures. 

I interviewed Mike Walker once but so many years ago he’s obviously forgotten the face (a subsequent interview, conducted around the time The Impossible Gentlemen played Bridgewater Hall, was over the telephone). So when I approach uncertainly, at the end of the night, he says, “Come on, I know you want to say something. Out with it!” “Thank you for the music,” I say, “it was balm for the soul.” “You don’t have to say more than that,” replies Mike. “It’s all I hope to do.” 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mike. Sorry man, been a long time.

    Thanks for the review.



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