TRIO UROBOROKazimier Garden 15/8/15
Music can sometimes be impossible to pin down – maybe it ought to be. For every woolly (if liberal) definition along the lines of “organised sound”, there are a dozen Wikipedia entries on pygmy subgenres whose list of exponents run to one, maybe three bands. And there’ll always be people who want to argue over which three, and why one of them belongs on another list, and why only someone with the hearing of a retired pneumatic drill operative would ever put them on that list. The only thing that’s certain is those people definitely do belong on a list, or register, to use to the appropriate legal term.
Sometimes first impressions are better. Take TRIO UROBORO, for example. Despite their ascendancy (appearances on Radio 3 and acclaim from Chris Ackerley of The Sound Of Now and Jazzwise), there’s little online beyond the listing for this afternoon’s gig, stating that they “wander a changeable course between composition and improvisation” without explaining why “play jazz” wouldn’t do. If you’re reading this review and haven’t heard them yet, what are first impressions anyway?
Their set is uncompromising at first – the opening improvisation reaches Ornette Coleman levels of wig-out. There are moments of interaction, especially between Johnny Hunter’s arabesque drumming and Keith Jafrate’s alto sax lines, stretched out to sublime length, but Anton Hunter’s single-chord playing seems uncooperative, obstinate. That said, later pieces tread more conventional paths, referencing West Coast jazz and Afrobeat, and proving that Trio Uroboro are a bona fide ensemble, not three individuals indulging themselves.
The Kazimier should be applauded for putting on such ‘difficult’ sounds for two hours on a Sunday afternoon. It’s either a Renaissance moment or the last days of Rome. The audience are mostly chatting, eating, or keeping an eye on their kids and don’t seem to be bothered by the ambient spray of skittish drumming and acid sax. Are they getting more out of it? It seems Trio Uroboro put in too much effort for the results to be background music but, between the onstage intensity and the gregarious audience, listening and waiting for a final argument or conclusion becomes a testing experience.
John Coltrane wished he could “walk up to my music for the first time, as if I had never heard it before”. Perhaps a second hearing of this gig with fresh ears would stop such unanswerable questions from being raised by this abstract, resolutely non-verbal music. Or should that just be “free jazz”? “Lo-fi irony punk (with sax)”? In Indo-European cultures, there’s the archetypal motif of a snake consuming itself tail-first: the ouroboros, a symbol of renewal and self-reflexivity. In the same way that this set started with antagonistic soloing and ends with a pseudo-lounge number gradually descending into incoherence via dub’s echoing stairwell, Trio Uroboro take you back to the start, with no guarantee there’ll be any answers second time round.