Metamorphic's debut album The Rock Between, released last month, was given its official launch at The Red Hedgehog in Highgate, North London, last Friday, with support from chamber improv trio 7 Hertz.
While I am not normally in the habit of commenting upon a venue, except maybe in a single sentence, certainly not at any length, I feel compelled to make an exception here.
The Red Hedgehog turned out rather a quaint venue, with an (upside down) L-shaped main room. The performance area is at the end of the longer section, at the joint with the shorter one. The piano only just fits into the left hand end of the performance area, with the shorter, elevated L-section abutting the pianist's seat - hardly an ideal arrangement but one chosen by Metamorphic's leader, Laura Cole, herself, in order to maintain an easy line of sight within the band. Also, about a quarter of the way into the longer section from the back of the performance area, a three or four foot section of wall protrudes on the left (as viewed from the audience), which obscured the view of the pianist for a good part of the audience.
What the acoustics in the shorter L-section were like, I couldn't guess. Certainly, the whole arrangement was somewhat peculiar and even somewhat questionable as far as I am concerned. The arrangement was clearly far from ideal for a performance of this kind. A small bar is hidden away along the same corridor that leads to the shorter L-section, but if you were seated in the longer section you'd have no idea of its existence.
Again, in the normal course of affairs I would not comment upon a support act in a review. However, the Leeds-based acoustic chamber improv trio 7 Hertz proved so exceptional as to be worthy of more than a mere passing mention.
Comprising Seth on five-string bass, Helen on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Yvonna on violin, 7 Hertz are all about improvised music, sometimes based around a composition, sometimes not. Their diverse backgrounds make for equally diverse and eclectic influences, ranging from Stravinsky, Bartok and Satie through Mingus,
Dolphy and Tom Waits to Balkans, punk and beyond.
The flavours of especially Stravinsky, Satie, Dolphy and Balkans were very much in evidence, but only the flavours - this was truly original, highly inspired and inventive music. I would really hate to have to confine 7 Hertz to any particular 'genre,' but if pushed would call it chamber-music-meets-free-jazz. While they seem to think their music sounds like 'a right old racket,' in fact 7 Hertz sounded like anything but. Their melodic, harmonic and rhythmic inventions were a delight. Solos by individual players were often accompanied by vigorous, highly rhythmic ostinatos by the others that left one as breathless as the solos.
Of particular note also was clarinettist Helen's exceedingly beautiful, mellow tone thanks to a crystal mouthpiece on the standard instrument, and her equally beautiful yet mellow rumble in the chalumeau of the bass version - a standard Bb bass rather than the extended bass more generally favoured by especially jazz performers.
However, the other two thirds of 7 Hertz were no less remarkable. For brevity's sake however I must conclude by saying that 7 Hertz's performance was simply exquisite and far too good for them to be a warm-up act.
After a short break, the first of Metamorphic's two sets commenced. Let me point out straight away, especially for anybody who might have read my review of the album, that the Laura Cole-led Metamorphic's performance here was far superior to the recording. And this in spite of a less than perfectly balanced sound. The problems with the latter were that often, Ms. Cole's piano became inaudible or almost inaudible (not, I hasten to add, due to the piano's position but rather the poor sound mix), the bass also could hardly be heard, while a lot of the time the two saxes were totally dominating and occasionally the vocals were either relatively too loud or nearly inaudible.
However, making allowance for this, Metamorphic's
performance throughout the two sets was, overall, impressive. In particular, John Martin and Chris Williams, on tenor and alto respectively, sounded much improved over the recording with a much more consistent voice across the registers and across the dynamics. Kerry Andrew's vocals, although also sounding markedly better than on the album, I regret to have to say still failed to impress, possibly because much of the material might simply not suit her.
At the traps, Tom Greenhalgh distinguished himself with some innovative hand drumming, but was otherwise restricted to using brushes and soft sticks only.
Again, as with the recording, one really was left wanting to hear so much more of Laura Cole's excellent piano, leading less from the rear and more from the front. The odd extended improv from Ms. Cole could also only have enhanced the performance. The same must be said of frontliners Martin and Williams. What solos there were hardly impressed as improvised somehow, sadly.
I feel sure that if Messrs. Martin and Williams and Ms. Cole were to let go and let rip a bit, trusting inspiration more than ideas, Metamorphic could be transformed into a much more exciting outfit turning out a much more exciting performance.
Not that this wasn't an exciting performance already - it was. But it could have done with that extra bit of spice and a bit of edge. It's all too safe and cosy.
The material that Metamorphic presented included a couple of new numbers in addition to tracks from the album, including a very lively piano, sax and drums trio, for which John Martin switched to soprano. Indeed, this was perhaps the most exciting piece.
It was greatly regrettable that rising star Shabaka Hutchings was unable to reprise his superb bass clarinet guest appearance on the album's title track, The Rock Between, for this launch due to other commitments. However, his part was taken by the excellent Helen of support band 7 Hertz but left out Hutchings' meaty solo. Also, for a good part of this piece, the bass clarinet was completely drowned out by the two saxes (but see sound problems earlier).
While overall, this was an excellent performance by Metamorphic, and an enjoyable one at that, and while I enjoyed this even more than the album, there is doubtless room for improvement. Bear in mind though that it is early days yet, and Laura Cole and Metamorphic may yet come a long way in their ongoing tour and perhaps find the confidence to trust inspiration and let fly with exciting improvs.
I for one certainly hope so and wish all of them all the very best in their quest.
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