Shapeshifter

There was something for every fan of minimalism when Trinity Laban ensemble Shapeshifter performed pieces by Steve Reich and Louis Andriessen at Blackheath Halls.
For those who like their minimalism, well, minimal, the fiendish rhythms of Reich’s duet Clapping Music was perfection thanks to a bravura performance by Malgorzata Kepa and Rhys Davies. And conductor Matthew Coorey led a gorgeous rendition of the American’s masterpiece City Life with its score featuring traditional strings, woodwind, piano and percussion as well as a live sampler delivering urban sound effects that were as much a part of the composition as the notes played by the 17 musicians. For those who prefer their minimalism to have a bit more meat, Louis Andriessen’s De Staat was an ideal contrast, the Dutch composer riffing off Reich’s repeating phrases while adding a serious dose of big band jazz and European dissonance with four singers and 28 instruments including electric guitars, violas, oboes, cor anglais, pianos, harps and a 13-strong brass section. The entire concert managed to be challenging and joyful at the same time – for Shapeshifter as well as the audience. Great stuff.  

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Mike Westbrook & The Uncommon Orchestra

Legendary composer/pianist Westbrook and his 20-strong band came to the Deptford Albany to perform their album A Bigger Show, a melange of jazz, prog, theatre, chanson, poetry and music hall – and gave us one of the gigs of the year. The piece began with drummer Coach York laying down a groove which the others joined in with until the entire ensemble, including three singers and a second drummer, were in full, jubilant flow. Some of the best moments were duet spots, particular the ones involving York and fellow percussionist Theo Goss, tenor sax pair Alan Wakeman and Pete Whyman, guitarists Jesse Molins and Matt North and an extraordinary two-hander by Roz Harding on alto sax and sousaphonist Dave Holdsworth on pocket trumpet. There were also fine solo performances by singers Kate Westbrook – who also wrote the lyrics – Billy Bottle and Martine Walter.
It was a brilliant performance which bore favourable comparisons with Sun Ra or Carla Bley’s Escalator Over The Hill. But this was a lot more fun. 

The Tempest

I’ve seen many wonderful productions of The Tempest over the years but I can’t recall one as thrillingly exuberant as Bilimankhwe’s Anglo-Malawian version at Greenwich Theatre.
There was no Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio or Gonzalo in director Kate Stafford’s minimalist staging. Instead she concentrated on Prospero’s obsessions – revenge and marrying off his daughter. This meant some of the play’s darkness was lost. But the trade-off, through Ben Mankhamba’s great live score, Shyne Phiri’s choreography, Hazel Albarn’s African set, the translation of some lines into surtitled Chichewa, the inspired decision to cast two men to play multi-faceted Ariel and the performances of the actors was compensation enough. Christopher Brand was a towering (in every sense) Prospero, elfin Cassandra Hercules was playfully perfect as Miranda, Robert Magasa and Joshua Bhima danced, sang and spoke in ethereal harmony as Ariel and Stanley Mambo was magnificent as Caliban. The Greenwich dates marked the start of a UK tour of The Tempest, so see it if you can.