Immix Ensemble kicked off their 2016 programme by joining forces with Dialect and James Canty, Getintothis’ Mike Stanton took a front seat.
The Buyers Club on Hardman Street has only been open for a few months but is already establishing itself as one of the most creative venues in the city. It seems a very appropriate place to host the first collaborative project of 2016 for Immix Ensemble.
For those unfamiliar, Immix Ensemble was founded by Daniel Thorne in order to work with innovative musicians across the UK, particularly those in the Merseyside region. These collaborations have taken them all over the country playing in unusual and creative spaces such as museums and galleries.
Tonight they consist of: Hilary Browning (Cello), Paul Duffy (Trumpet), Jonathan Guy (Bass Clarinet), Simmy Singh (Violin), Daniel Thorne (Alto Saxophone) and Michael Walsh (Oboe).
We are upstairs at the Buyers Club and the room we are in oozes urban cool, from the exposed rough-hewn brickwork to the untreated wooden plank floor and uncovered air conditioning pipes snaking above our heads. It’s organic and tactile, a living, breathing piece of the city’s history, a throwback to the industrial past.
Andrew PM Hunt records as solo artist Dialect, creating shifting sonic soundscapes as well as being a member of the prog-synth band Outfit. He opens, performing Hung Rose from his album Advanced Myth. Dialect’s distinctive layers of sound and subtle use of samples weave in and out of a simple electronic piano riff, blending and fusing with the wood, brass and string instruments of Immix. The sounds drift and swirl around the industrial space echoing the internal architecture while the piano is the only constant in the shifting patterns and textures. It is stark and beautiful.
Two compositions commissioned by Immix follow. Rays of Light is a minimal piece of harmony and counterpoint; looping and repeating patterns of clarinet and saxophone building and spiraling in percussive patterns. Redolent of Philip Glass, it has the same intricacies so carefully layered, occasionally broken by stark refrains of trumpet and saxophone. Meditative and hypnotic it is warm and embracing. Ancient Dust echoes the sound of deep space, bleeps, static and the decaying charges of background radiation wink in the darkness as the wind instruments mirror and mimic these sounds, building and layering, growing in volume and strength. These sounds expand filling the air causing vibrational wraiths around us.
Finishing on Waterfront Epiphany the second interpretation of one of Dilaect’s songs, this time from his album Gowanus Drifts. Textured, looping violin and cello creates space and movement as the wind instruments join and generate urgency. This leaves an air of possibility that all things are within the realms of imagination. A shimmering chimeric energy has flooded the room inspiring a palpable thrum of expectation.
There’s a short break before James Canty steps up. Opening with S.Y.C. a commission by Immix, his intricate classical guitar acts as a counterpoint to the lush melodies and textures created by the ensemble. His voice cuts through the lush orchestration with emotion never losing his estuary twang. The backing is more traditional, warm and sympathetic allowing his voice to soar with the wind instruments as he sings “it’s better to lose your heart than lose your faith.”
Mercy Street follows and is an extraordinary ode to the city’s homeless. Full of powerful imagery and heart-wrenching observations, it is a desperate plea for humanity. The melancholy of the strings, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet is overpowering as Canty’s voice wheels above the dense textures. He captures the full tragedy of the moment as our eyes sting with emotion and the audience sits transfixed. It is overwhelmingly moving.
Early Bird is an instrumental piece written by Canty for Immix Ensemble. Inspired by the daily walk to work in the morning, clarinets and saxophones reflect this, mimicking bird calls as the world shakes loose dreams and slowly wakes. Other instruments take up the sound of traffic, car horns and morning chatter. It is hopeful and optimistic.
Canty’s easy charm and wit endears him to the audience, chatting freely and easily as he re-tunes his guitar, recounting the story of buying a cape from a ‘magic’ shop. This cape is duly produced to admiring cheers and he promptly dons it. It is a mighty cape, orange velvet and very probably of great power. He looks dandy and beams at the audience.
The Birds No. 2 is, in Canty’s own words, “your standard intense love song.” He has a crooning style of singing that fits his folk-tinged compositions, perfectly elevating the songs to an intense emotional level. His voice is clear, sharp with subtle vibrato. The strings of Immix create a warm and dense atmosphere resembling Nick Drake in the fragile sounds and subjects of melancholy and mortality.
Reality TV Star brings the set to a close. A set that has veered between searing intensity and reflective calm. James Canty’s performance is utterly captivating and we find ourselves leaning in, becoming absorbed into this full and enriching environment.
Immix Ensemble seem well suited to Canty’s compositions. There are many layers to his songs and the powerful depths they add renders them fully immersive. They bring a brightness, a euphoria and a soothing quality.
Both artists imbue their own distinct visions to the collaborations and Immix Ensemble inspire their performances, enabling them to transcend the music they create.
The audience roar their approval in a thunderous standing ovation. What we have witnessed this evening is remarkable. It was an event that echoed with a propulsive, chameleonic energy that consistently staggered the imagination.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Waters