Arthur Russell’s Instrumentals directed by Peter Gordon: The Kazimier, Liverpool


Peter Gordon directing Arthur Russell’s Instrumentals at The Kazimier

Blown away by the avant-garde experimentalism of Peter Gordon’s virtuoso interpretation of Arthur Russell’s Instrumentals, Getintothis’ Paul Higham laments the demise of The Kazimier.

It is with a heavy heart that we will say goodbye to The Kazimier at the end of the year. While it is fair to say that they are not planning on going gently into that good night, performances such as Peter Gordon‘s magical reimagining of Arthur Russell‘s Instrumentals serve only to reinforce the sense of loss that will be felt.

It is to performances such as tonight’s that the venue lends its own sense of magic. With an early performance time – to enable those travelling from further afield to return home at a sensible hour – The Kazimier rapidly filled not long after opening. As a semi-circle of eager enthusiasts built around the stage so did the atmosphere; the sense of expectation loomed large, the excitement in the air was palpable.

The strong sense that something magical was about to happen was far from misplaced as Peter Gordon and the stellar line-up he has assembled more than lived up to their star billing. The eight musicians clustered around the narrow confines of the Kazimier stage delivered a truly breathtaking performance of vibrant energy, emotional tenderness, and unending invention, playing with no pause for breath for 90 minutes.

As much as this was a celebration of the incredible music created by Russell, it felt like a personal tribute from his long-time friend and close musical collaborator. Having met as students and bonded over a common love of experimental avant-garde instrumental pop music, Gordon worked closely with Russell on the original arrangements to Instrumentals.

In the act of bringing it to life on stage, you could sense the emotion in his face as he strained to eke out some of the more unorthodox sounds from his saxophone. At times it felt like a cathartic release of joyous bursts of glorious music.

It wasn’t solely about Gordon however. The band that surrounded him were given a real licence to shine and took full advantage of it. Immediately there was a sense of clarity and precision, of air and space. Everything had its place and all worked supremely.

Musically the performance was an effective melding of styles, always with a strong jazz influence. At times minimalist and sparse, like if Steve Reich had worked in Neu!, yet equally broad and epic when required, all the while being underpinned by the mellifluous bass playing of Ernie Brooks and the fluid multi-faceted rhythms of Bill Ruyle on drums.

Equally impressive was Max Gordon on electric piano and Rhys Chatham‘s beautifully deranged flute-playing, the latter creating an other-worldly feel to the proceedings. Worthy mention too to DFA‘s (and sometime LCD Soundsystem member) Gavin Russom whose subtle synth work helped bind everything together and provided an analogue warmth.

Two sections of the lengthy Instrumentals performance stand-out. Taking centre stage alongside Gordon for most of the night, Peter Zummo‘s sparse trombone solo while his bandmates fell silent just over halfway through the mid-point was breathtaking. Aided by a mute to muffle the volume, the effect was hauntingly eerie and contemplative; an effective counterpoint to the euphoria that had preceded it.

With Zummo playing to the point of breathlessness, it revealed an understated beauty and drew the first deserved ovation of the night. Indeed such had been the non-stop intensity of the performance it was the first opportunity, at almost an hour in, for the audience to reveal their appreciation. When they did it was like an eruption, with the goodwill and sheer joy proving intoxicating.

The more sedate transcendental section ushered in by Zummo soon gave way to a riotous frenzy of noise. Thrillingly atonal, each member playing their instruments like their lives depended on it as the tempo accelerated and the aural assault grew deafening. The section was a joy to behold, particularly Gordon‘s saxophone. More associated with a mellow and romantic warmth, Gordon jabbed ferociously at the keys to produce an arresting staccato effect that punched rather than caressed.

Where the main piece allowed for more cerebral contemplation, the encore (if you can term it as such for the band didn’t leave the stage) was a more ecstatically exuberant affair. The appreciative tension boiled over as the band gave over to the deliriously disco-inflected grooves of Is It All Over My Face. The sudden release was infectious as the audience abandoned its inhibitions, dancing joyously as one. It felt a fitting end and a perfect celebration of Russell.

It sounds slightly crass to say there is something unique about The Kazimier, but truly there is no venue quite like it. It seems to bring out the best in those that tread its boards and the atmosphere it helps create really does elevate the good into the great and the great into the unforgettable. Tonight was just one of those nights and, judging by the dumbfounded smiles of the been-there-done-that musicians that beamed back at the seemingly never-ending standing ovation, we dare say it will live long in the collective memory of Peter Gordon and his ensemble. We’ll sure miss the old girl when she’s gone.

Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Waters.