Monday, 13 November 2017

Remembrance Day, Jazz and Sex

It was quite apposite, I thought as I walked away from the venue, that this concert was staged on Remembrance Day. Earlier on, just a stone’s throw from the theatre, I had watched the oldest procession in the country as part of the Annual Lord Mayor’s Parade.

If Remembrance Day is about acknowledging the sacrifices made by the fallen and injured to secure peace, what better way to honour them than through music? In my opinion, the most universal of all the art forms and the one that gives us the succour we need in our darkest hours.

That was exactly what Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba served to a musically-hungry audience at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival. Two world-strutting behemoths with a Grammy collection that would be the envy of any well-established pianist, this was probably one of the must-see shows of the ten-day event. On the one hand, seventy-six-year-old Chucho, a pioneer and trailblazer of modern Cuban jazz, who with his band Irakere not only broke the mould of what Latin jazz was supposed to sound like, but also created new rules along the way. On the other hand, smaller in stature, but definitely not in craft, virtuoso Rubalcaba, who redefined jazz for a late 80s, 90s both Cuban and international audience.

The two masters together

In addition to all this, the experience, at least to me, of watching these two colossi was akin to what I could only describe as an aural orgasm. Yes, this post is certainly X-rated, my dears, so do not let your little ones read it (smiley, with a wink). By the way, all puns are intended. Yep, it is that kind of post.

Where to start? Maybe with the teasing, long, foreplay-like meditation at the beginning. It was as sensuous as it was deft. Delicate notes, exploring, probing, feeling. It was Rubalcaba who broke away first, his Steinway gathering pace as a patient and calm Valdés kept back and watched.

What followed thereafter can only be described with the language of love, or sex, if you prefer. There were sprints and sudden stops, polyphonic dialogues the two masters lunged at and percussive, quick-fire, repetitive tapping. A Cuban montuno became a climax-inducing piece. A “zapateo” was given a full big band revamp… minus the big band. The sound was big, all-encompassing. I looked both to my left and to my right. I saw plenty of open mouths and eyes, bobbing heads and shaking shoulders. Those twenty fingers on stage, eliciting occasional gasps and sighs in the audience, every time they travelled up and down the ivories and hit the desired spot. Would we have been down on the aisles grooving it had the concert not been at 2:30pm? You bet.

And just when you thought the concert was over, the encore came. Even the ”Duke” would have approved of Chucho and Gonzalo’s take on Caravan. It was full of razzmatazz and panache. The final stage of copulation and the post-coital ciggie all at once (I threw the latter in for good measure, I don’t smoke. But I’m feeling generous.). A tumbao-heavy version with a thirty- or forty-second Manteca riff halfway through. This was not a battle, in the same way sex should never be one. This was collaboration, banter, care, tenderness, playfulness, a bit of rough and calmness (at the end). My only gripe? Where was my second part? Where was the interval and follow-up? Because as many of us know, when it comes to sex, sorry, music, second parts tend to be as good as, if not better than the first ones.

© 2017

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Thoughts in Progress

Lancaster Sandland Hand painted Hanley England”. The inscription was as enigmatic as the design. I held the mug in my hand wondering what the two figures on it meant. You’ll be my first customer today if you buy it, the woman in charge of the stall said. It had just gone two o’ clock on a sun-draped, summer afternoon. I offered her a couple of quid and she took them. I think she’d have even taken 50p for the item.

It was my first time at the Hackney Flea Market. I’d heard of it from a friend but had never visited it. A monthly weekend event that started life as a pop-up project back in 2013, the market is now the go-to place for vintage enthusiasts. The mix of wares on display is amazing and bizarre in equal measure. Old cassette-players (80s boomboxes abound), handmade goods from independent creatives and even some striking taxidermy.

Still, my mug left me scratching my head. As soon as I got home and put my bike away (you knew that was coming, didn’t you? I cycled to the market), I went online to dig out some information about the enigmatic inscription on the mug’s bottom. I must add that I did ask the seller where she had got the mug from. Like a lot of merchandise on sale at flea markets, people do not really know the provenance of the products they are flogging.

Lancaster & Sandland of Dresden Works was a British manufacturer that specialised in pottery. They were based in Hanley, Staffordshire from 1944 until the 70s. This immediately reminded me of an article I had read many years ago about this region. Close to Stoke (whose football, or soccer, team plays in the English Premier League), this was an area known as The Potteries because six of the local towns (Hanley being one of them) were the driving force in the ceramics and decorative arts industry in the UK.

While the range produced was varied, some figures proved very popular. Amongst them were Dickens characters and famous, historical people, like Francis Drake. My very own mug depicted what I can only describe as a pub scene. On one side you see the pub landlord tidying up the bar, and on the other there is a customer, hat still on (which does not look normal, what with this scene probably taking place in the 1800s, when “doff yer cap indoors” was less of a request and more of a command) pipe in hand, having a pint. This might be his local boozer. At least the whole set-up conveys a sense of bonhomie, comfort and cosiness.

After rinsing my new, special cup (I have a couple of them that fulfil very specific functions. One is for herbal tea, another one is for black coffee), I fixed myself a mocha. As I sat in my lounge looking out onto the back garden, I kept thinking of the pub landlord and his tired-looking face, and the pipe-smoking patron. History has a way of sneaking into our lives. Sometimes in the form of a mug.

© 2017


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