16 Feb 1995

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East Meets West
Concert by United Future Organisation, DJ Krush, DJ Takemura, Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle ,Patrick Forge, Mark Murphy and Palm Skin Productions
Brownwood.jpg
Location 103 Gaunt St, London
Venue Ministry of Sound

"The Brownwood Seessions UK takes place on 16 February: taking over the Ministry Of Sound in South London (071 613 2061) will be the cream of the modern mixology crop: from Japan, United Future Organisation, DJ Krush and DJ Takemura; and from the UK, Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle of MOWax and Patrick Forge, with live sets from Mark Murphy and Palm Skin Productions.9 pm-4 am, f 7 (adv)/f8 (on door)." [1]


Reviews

Anglo-Japanese relations reached a potentially significant moment last Thursday in the wastelands of Waterloo. The occasion, under the billing of East Meets West, was an epic jazz-dance session featuring the coolest club acts of London and Tokyo. They were united, appropriately enough, at The Ministry of Sound, a techno dance club set in converted warehouse under the shadow of Victorian railway arches.

Inside, a 2,000 strong crowd shuttled between dance floors and bars as a succession of DJs pounded them with a relentless mix of funky beats, Latin grooves, obscurities excavated from the jazz archives, snatches of rap, scratch versions of Miles Davis tunes, samples of Brazilian sambas and blasts of synthesised psychedelia.

A few years ago this eclectic mish-mash of styles was dubbed Acid Jazz, a renegade genre which is now respectably ensconced in the pages of America's trade mag Billboard. These days, with the beats getting slower and heavier, the buzz term is trip-hop. The audience, however 'multi-racial, bohemian ' remains much the same. The scenario, with scarcely room to twitch an elbow amid the fashionably industrial gloom of brick and metal, resembled an ante-room of groovy hell, though the crowd remained affable enough.

It seemed as if the entire young Japanese population of London had turned out, a mark of the booming popularity of jazz-dance way out East. What's more, Tokyo turntable wizards like United Future Organisations (UFO), DJ Krush, and DJ Takemura, all of whom were spinning last week, represent a reversal of the traditional one-way trade in pop exports. 'Big in Japan' may soon give way to 'Big in England'.

London was represented by DJs Patrick Forge, Gilles Peterson, the creator of the influential Talkin' Loud records, and James Lavelle, whose Mo' Wax label is currently the epitome of hip, so much so that at 20 years old Lavelle is about to sign a lucrative deal with A&M Records ' 'so that my discoveries don't just get stolen by the big labels,' he says.

Among Lavelle's hopes for this expanded network of labels is Palm Skin Productions, a group hoping to follow the trajectory of clubland-spawned acts like M-People and Portishead, who have gone from underground cult to mainstream success. Their performance last week suggested they still have a way to travel, however.

Led by percussionist and synth player Simon Richmond who, with his shaven head and goatee beard resembles a T-shirted Russian revolutionary, Palm Skin's nine-strong line-up includes a female cellist, a scratch DJ, and a female Japanese singer. Their approach is a typical Mo' Wax blend of thunderous beats and heady jazz improvisation. The real star of the group is saxophonist Chris Bowden, who already has an impressive range of styles at his fingertips. On numbers like 'Osaka' he played alto sax in the angular, off-key style of Ornette Coleman. Elsewhere he let rip in the 'straight-ahead' bop-style, or blew thoughtful melodies on soprano.

The rest of the band rarely approached his subtlety. The cellist was under-used, Richmond's synthesiser whinnies sounded like a throwback to the progressive rock of Hawkwind, and vocalist Yuko strained to be heard most of the time. When she was finally handed a decent microphone for the closing number, a version of The Beatles 'She's So Heavy', it was for a series of Yoko Ono-style wails that made you wish she'd stick to looking slinky with a tambourine. These are early days, however, and the group's portfolio of singles suggests unexplored potential.

Upstairs, past the flickering Manga cartoons with their bizarre mix of demons, laser weapons and soft porn, past the throngs of dancers posing for their friends' video cameras, was the 'Johnny One Drop' room, which turned out to be various members of Galliano looning about with synths, drum kits and turntables.

The resultant crash of beats and neo-psychedelic noise required a strong aural constitution, but drew an enthusiastic crowd.

The other live attraction was veteran singer Mark Murphy, who at 63 represents the bohemian heritage linking the beatniks of the Kerouac era and the beatheads of today. A maverick even in the late Fifties and early Sixties when he began, Murphy's discovery and embrace of London's early jazz dance scene in the Eighties has given his career an unexpected renaissance. Though he still lives in California, he works regularly in Tokyo with UFO.

Murphy is an odd mix of well-dressed camp and off-beat hipster. Looking far younger than his years, he lived up to his reputation as 'the existentialist Sinatra' with a set that drew on the warmth of ballad singing and the inventiveness of scat. Behind him, his quartet played tidy, cool, Latin-inflected jazz while Murphy swooped and swung, and a trio of dancers went through some ankle-threatening moves.

Ten years ago, Murphy confided, he was reduced to playing pubs before being embraced by London's nascent jazz-dance movement. Little wonder he wrote 'Dingwalls', his own Kerouac-esque tribute to the scene. The crowd cheered adoringly, one generation of bohos to another.

- Neil Spencer[2]

Images

References

  1. "Sounding Off" The Wire [London, England], Feb. 1995, p. 5. Retrieved from https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/35751/spread/7
  2. "Pop: Trip-hopping underneath the arches - Neil Spencer joined the dance in the bohemian wastelands of Waterloo, as East met West and beatniks met beatheads." Observer [London, England], 19 Feb. 1995, p. 12.