sun 29/01/2023

Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Harry Baker, Noisenight 13, Jazz Cafe review - distinctive and easygoing chemistry | reviews, news & interviews

Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Harry Baker, Noisenight 13, Jazz Cafe review - distinctive and easygoing chemistry

Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Harry Baker, Noisenight 13, Jazz Cafe review - distinctive and easygoing chemistry

A sense of witty, articulate experiment throughout

Sheku Kanneh-Mason at the Jazz CafeMatthew Johnson

The elation in the queue was palpable as people stood laughing and chatting in the November cold waiting for the doors of the Jazz Café to open for the latest crowd-funded event organised by Through the Noise. This 13th Noisenight – which brings major classical soloists to nightclubs – was a chance to see Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist Harry Baker at a key moment in Through the Noise’s history, the start of its first national tour.  

While much of the buzz was around Kanneh-Mason, from the moment the two musicians started playing it was clear that what was special was their distinctive and easy-going chemistry; at points it felt like eavesdropping on a conversation between friends. They began with a reworking of Nigel Kennedy and Kroke’s "Lullaby for Kamila". Where the original is dominated by the haunting lyrical legato of Kennedy’s violin, here Kanneh-Mason started with a gentle meditative pizzicato which was developed and amplified in Baker’s increasingly percussive response. Even when Kanneh-Mason started to use his bow, teasing the full sweetness out of the melody, the dominant sense was of a wry playfulness in which the two musicians alternated between echoing and challenging each other.

That sense of witty, articulate experiment continued in their performance of Arthur Hamilton’s "Cry Me a River" and James Taylor’s "Something in the Way She Moves". For the Hamilton, Kanneh-Mason performed the theme with a strong, rich vibrato – in response Baker deployed simmering rivulets of notes that grew into more expansive chords as the melody intensified. People in the audience started swaying and dancing as Kanneh-Mason kicked off the next number with a jaunty pizzicato and Baker tuned into his vibe with a jokey understated retort.

The sense of the pair’s brilliance really came to the fore with their improvisation based on the famous Chaconne of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor. In stark contrast to the raw power of the piece’s opening chords, they stripped the opening statements down into individual melodic lines, slowly building up the complexity through the dialogue between their instruments. At points it was as if the piece had been turned into the musical equivalent of an Escher, as they inverted themes and splintered ideas, giving the sense that that there were enough unexplored patterns in the original to stretch to infinity if they chose.Harry BakerFollowing this great reinvention of a great classic, both performed their own compositions – Baker playing his version of the folk song "Fare Thee Well" with a flare and style that made it feel like the soundtrack to the opening of some movie featuring lattes, mild angst, and Manhattan. Kanneh-Mason’s "Melody", also inspired by folk music, was as soulful as it was resonant – in his performance you really sensed the restraint he had been exercising in more jazzy numbers, where he was ensuring that he was in dialogue rather than soloist mode.

Their daring “slightly more intimate” take on the Adagietto of Mahler 5 went on to show off the expressive range of both musicians. Kanneh-Mason tapped into the Mahler with a tremulous sensitivity and aching lyricism that held the room spellbound, despite a little competition in clinking bottles from the bar and a few shouts from outside. In a traditional classical venue that would have mattered more; here the informality meant that the audience was transfixed whatever the disruption. From time to time Baker would pick up the theme before relaying it back to Kanneh-Mason, who would amplify it with a combination of velvety tones and whispering vibrato.

They returned to more contemporary work with performances of American indie rock collective San Fermin’s "In This House" and Big Thief’s "UFOF". For these final numbers, once more the tone was light and witty – again, we had a sense of being in the company of two musicians shooting the breeze, thoroughly enjoying the games they were playing with the songs’ harmonies and textures.

As in other Through the Noise gigs there was a real sense of a mixture of generations in the crowd, all intoxicated not just by the Mojitos but by the exhilarating range of music they had come to see. As an encore the pair played Dionne Warwick’s "I Say a Little Prayer" – making this no doubt the first time this has appeared in a concert also featuring Mahler; yet another enjoyable innovation in an evening that bodes well for the future of this dynamic, intelligent enterprise.

@Hallibee1

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