Date 25 June 2005 at 21.30 Venue Commodore Ballroom
Reviewer Kulpreet Sasan
AMON TOBIN plus Stronen/Storlokken "Humcrush"
the planning stage, combining these artists must have seemed the makings
of an interesting double bill. “Humcrush” would introduce
certain notions of distance and evolution that Amon Tobin would
carry to a logical apex. In reality the two performances created a chasm
between ideas and performances.
Why Tobin, generally considered an electronica artist, was featured in this year’s Jazz Festival bewildered me. The Festival Guide attempted some tenuous distinctions, noting his references to jazz riffs and atmospherics. The festival seemed to be taking a great deal of care in trying to find ways in which the catalogue of jazz music was influencing and interacting with music of the day.
So I imagined this would be the theory, but I can’t recall seeing anyone contemplating the beauty of certain riffs or wildly applauding the sublime improvisational sequence Tobin spun in the last three minutes of any song. Mostly there were intoxicated, sweating, and moving bodies. The DJ, AKA the jazz artist, was still behind the turntable, as the crowd whirled inconsequentially creating its own interpretations. This was a Rorschach test in syncopated rhythms.
Serious contemplation of what the music was trying to offer wasn’t happening, possibly because it didn’t want to say all that much? This was a choice. Words, thought, and rationality are forms of clutter. What remains is movement, wild and exaggerated in the audience as much as in the unmoving artist. Perhaps this is how Tobin tapped into the essential spirit, if not the form or content, of jazz. Or of all free flowing creative acts, he connected to the sublime within, or at least created the illusion of doing so for a select few.
There’s little doubt about the sheer exuberance of the experience or about Tobin’s ability to move the audience into contorted positions, but was it jazz? The question was highlighted when the opening act of drummer Thomas Stronen and his fellow Norwegian keyboardist Stale Storlokken got going.
The physicality of Stornen’s playing and the sensual/dramatic textures Storlokken added created a certain aesthetic. There was all the virtuosity expected of jazz musicians, an awareness of reserved temperament that caries you away -- not to the dance floor but to reveries on sound and atmospherics. There was a connection here to jazz traditions and beyond
You could literally see the choices at play, the discarding of melody, the fixation on texture, the sparseness of Storlokken’s playing combined with the rhythmic euphoria from Stronen’s shifting beats. This description may have made the music sound too experimental and technical, but herein lies the band’s brilliance: I could not imagine anything more organic. Their sound seems almost the most perfect balance of past and present. It marked this moment in time as clearly as anything imaginable.
“Humcrush” pushed forward ideas, representing a line of aesthetic thought tangible in its playing. Tobin abandoned ideas, almost performing via the audience, tearing away distances, leaving us in a wild sweaty heap. As with all things, what you prefer is what you prefer.
© 2005 Kulpreet Sasan