Tolbooth / Various venues, Stirling
The longest running leftfield music festival in Scotland now styles itself as ‘Stirling’s No Limits Music Festival’. This year it spread its wings not only throughout the Tolbooth’s multi-tiered interior, but offsite to spaces ancient and modern, from the Church of the Holy Rude next door to a concrete underpass on the edge of town. The biggest presence over the course of the three days was Bill Wells, whose prolific output as pianist, bassist and composer has made him a quietly powerful force, both as a sideman and in his own right. Wells introduced the weekend with a teatime set by his self-styled National Jazz Trio of Scotland, their classically elegant originals setting a wistful tone for a Friday night of understated pop.
Swedish trio Tape led the quiet charge, their mix of harmonium, guitar patterns and electronics a prettified and gentle display that sounded like Roy Budd scoring for State River Widening. Taken by Trees, led by former Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman, peaked with their nursery rhyme version of Guns N’Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine, rendering the song’s sentimental machismo into something truly childlike. The ongoing metamorphosis of The Pastels finds them applying trumpet, flute, a couple of stray Teenage Fanclub guitarists, and, on piano, that man Wells again towards some low-key equivalent of Pet Sounds.
Wells returned with viola player Aby Vulliamy for the launch of The Loathsome Reel, a lavishly illustrated limited edition compendium of 61 of his own scores. The pair took just over an hour to get through all 61 of them in a charming take on parlour entertainment. This was followed by a rare screening of Ebba Jahn’s remarkable film Rising Tones Cross, a two hour document of New York jazz, filmed in 1984 but looking so ramshackle and magnificently unreconstructed as to resemble a down at heel scene from a good decade earlier.
Over at the Church of the Holy Rude, a quartet of Evan Parker, Mark Wastell, Graham Halliwell and Max Eastley took advantage of the space’s glorious acoustics, looping Parker’s sax and an assortment of gongs and throbbing undercurrents into airy abandon. David Fennessy’s Big Lung revelled in the space’s acoustic potential, as Fennessy conducted percussionists Asuka Hatanaka and Tom de Cock’s innocuous wooden block and glockenspiel arrangements, only to blow them away with a full-pelt Gothic organ assault.
An evening of inspired duos followed, with sax player Raymond MacDonald’s pairing with Portuguese electronicist Miguel Carvalhais far from obvious. After MacDonald’s opening rally of busy soprano splutters and Carvalhais’s foreboding bass tremors and air hockey clicks, the pair eased into a deliciously brooding melancholy. It was as if John Coltrane’s After the Rain had been reimagined for the 21st century, replacing the implied downpour with acres of static. Hamid Drake and Raymond Boni were even warmer, if a whole lot more propulsive, as Boni’s guitar became as percussive as Drake’s bodhran in a wonderful moment of unison. Elliott Sharp and Franck Vigroux’s maverick virtuosity conjured up a fierce set of pulse-driven extravagance, with Sharp plucking the piano strings to make a moody and at times manic noir.
Sunday began with the insistently named Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo’s adventures in concrete, as the Edinburgh duo set up shop in a nearby underpass. Their two pieces used squeezebox drone and a carefully laid out array of cassette recorders to build up layers of sound from their immediate surroundings.
Most anticipated arrival of the weekend was Annette Peacock, whose off-kilter lounge-bar torch songs inspired serious devotion from those who made the Stirling pilgrimage. While they weren’t left wanting, one can’t help but long for more light and shade in Peacock’s minimalist palette of piano and synthesizer. The woozy, half-spoken poetics are delivered in a consistently downbeat tone, with Peacock’s portable set-up single-minded to the point of austerity.
Shattering the mood, 7k Oaks were an all too welcome rude intrusion. With Alfred 23 Harth on sax and Massimo Pupillo’s fuzz bass joining forces with drummer Fabrizio Spera and pianist Luca Venitucci, their fusion of European free jazz and noise scene blitz was just the right side of relentless. After such a barrage, their version of Chic’s At Last I Am Free, by way of Robert Wyatt’s own take on the song, took things into the spiritual, and was all the more jaw-dropping because of it.
The Wire, Issue 294, August 2008