Photography: Glyn Akroyd / @GlynAkroyd
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  • Daniel Thorne
  • Ex-Easter Island Head
24 Kitchen Street 10/4/19

A much-anticipated gig this one, with some astonishment that such a musically pioneering and respected figure could be sequestered away in the low-cap confines of 24 Kitchen Street.

Back in the day, the cognoscenti knew: The Who, Curved Air, Soft Machine et al all nodded in Riley’s direction, as he and others of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre pushed the envelope of what was musically possible and acceptable.
Support act EX-EASTER ISLAND HEAD have a good go at keeping that experimental spirit alive with a set of complex but melodic tunes played out on a series of assembled instruments; guitars laid horizontally and played as percussion instruments, for example, that seems entirely in tune with what people might expect of the evening as a whole. It appears to be a good gig at which to be a support act, the audience are focused and very appreciative. Saxophonist DANIEL THORNE picks up on this and captivates the crowd with a set that begins delicately and sparsely enough, but which is progressively layered through his use of pedals, building to the echo-laden Double Helix and further warm applause.

The Rileys enter – father TERRY and son GYAN – Terry smiling benignly at the applauding crowd, some seated but the majority standing to the back of a packed room. Without much ado, they launch into a piece that certainly could not be described as minimalist. Gyan’s jazzy, discordant chimes are caressed and coaxed from his guitar and Riley Snr’s piano playing becomes more and more expansive. The pair constantly look up from their instruments, glancing at each other, searching for clues as to what will come next, which direction they will take, in what is a largely improvised set.

It’s as though Terry Riley is exploring some of his own influences, playing with time and timing as we hear elements of jazz, ragtime and blues weaving their way in and out of the set. And it is a very playful set, a playful atmosphere, both performers and audience are smiling and laughing at the turns the music takes. There’s no obvious backbeat but the set pulses with rhythm and energy. They must have done this a thousand times in their kitchen.

About half way through the set I feel as though I’m listening to the soundtrack of a crazy Tex Avery cartoon, the music jumping about – sweet, dissonant, whimsical, earnest – in a maelstrom of West Coast joie de vivre. Riley Snr later takes up a melodica for a ‘don’t forget about us’ paean to the prairies of the Mid-West.

Riley Snr’s lifelong fascination with Indian classical music is apparent in much that he plays; he constantly switches between a grand piano and a Korg tuned to Indian scales, occasionally playing both at the same time, and the only vocal of the evening is his mantra-like introduction to the final piece.

There is a huge amount of goodwill in the room and the set is well received aside from a few mutterings from those who had expected a set of classic minimalism; and, for whom this version of Riley was an unexpectedly cluttered deviation from the pure space of his earlier work. Enjoyable, but not quite as anticipated. But people like Riley don’t sit still and they don’t pander to people’s expectations. They tread their own path.

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