Sunday 12 January 2014

Roger Turner and Urs Leimgruber

St Margaret’s Church, Manchester, Jan 10, 2014 


Here’s a youtube clip of a gig I went to on Friday: -

People think of free jazz as non-commercial, but I think Turner and Leimgruber are missing out on a potential revenue stream here. The opening ten seconds would make a very good ringtone, and the music would make a very effective alarm call, being taut, prickly, attentive and generally wide awake. 

Actually, words can't convey how good this concert was. It was a privilege to see two masters at the top of their game. The music seemingly organised in discrete cells of sounds, so there was never repetition and nothing to interrupt the free flow, or impede the instant responsiveness of the duo. It was fascinating on a neurological level, and  simulated the fluidity of thinking. What a joy to witness thought that is open and can assimilate change, and how rare!  

The dynamics were extraordinary. That rimshot at 4.40 elicited a laugh from Richard Scott, who was sitting next to me (you can just hear it: Rina was recording on the other side of me). But such explosions were the more powerful for the contrast with the silence all around. At another point Leimgruber was playing his saxophone a few inches away from his mouth, so all you heard was the sound of air in his cheeks and the rhythmic clicking of his fingers on the keys. The musicians had created their own micro-cosmos, where every small, fragile sound was sharply defined. The effect was to magnify detail and stop time. Little gestures implied grandiose gestures: the outlay of energy was the same. And the music was rich in proportion to all the things one didn’t hear. 

It’s a testimony to the intimacy of the space, and St Margaret’s - a veritable art church, with paintings and sculptures outnumbering the sacred decorations - has near-miraculous acoustics. 

Roger Turner’s modus operandi is to load super-abundant energy onto tiny detail and small noises. The results are infinitely more expressive than any amount of bombast. For evidence, look at another extraordinary performance, captured on youtube:

It’s a non-verbal Sam Beckett. The human condition in stark abbreviation. Marvellous.  

Whereas this (following a trail through)…

is paradisiacal and sublime.  

Contrary to recent experiences (and returning to St Margaret’s), the free jazz youngbloods acquitted themselves well, with Julie Kjaer, Andrew Cheetham, David Birchall and Seth Bennett making the trajectory from tentative exploration to confident exhilaration with nary a slip. 

Richard Scott, who occupied the interval slot, crouched boffin-like over an electronic circuit that sprouted a fecundity of wires. It would be an understatement to say that Scott is really onto something here. His first, purely improvised, contribution made me think of the gurgling test-tubes from The Man in the White Suit. Praise doesn’t come higher than this. His second and third pieces, a little more pre-meditated apparently, displayed more gravitas and evoked ‘Gesang der Junglinge’ by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Again, praise doesn’t come higher than this. 


  1. Not the one on Burnage Lane? Former home to David Threlfall, those other Gallaghers and Chris Ofili got cooler, eh?

  2. Whalley Range. The link confirms my impression of St Margaret's as an art church: -

    I bumped into the vicar (parish priest, whatever his official title) on the way out (I was leaving the gig and he was entering) and I suppressed some mild irritation when he described the music as "dysfunctional". It's probably to his greater credit that, nevertheless, he supports free jazz the way he does. More conventional jazz gets an airing on the Saturday coffee morning, the first Saturday of the month. I might get along to that actually. Someone told me that Clive Hunte, that genial lynchpin of good Manchester music, is involved.

    So more Clive Hunte, David Birchall and Richard Harrison than the Gallaghers.


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