The Michael Giles Mad Band
1.6.10 - Bath Chapel Arts

Improvised music is, if not exactly an acquired taste, then definitely something that needs a certain level of insight to really extract the best from it. I've seen and heard several CDs and concerts which took lack of structure as their prime motivation and the results of this approach are, they always are, a bit variable. So is mixing up club anthems on the nearest available software, but at least with working in the electronic field it's possible to guarantee certain outcomes before even turning on the studio light switch. Not so in the world of live improvisation, where there's always, even amongst highly skilled and experienced performers, the chance that at some point in the evening the performance will collapse entirely and that the audience are bound to appreciate the musicianship on display as much for their expertise at jamming themselves out of a chaotic mishmash as for their ability to hold down a tune.

There isn't however any doubt that when a group of highly committed and internationally renowned musicians decide that they're sufficiently at ease with their material to share it with the public that the results make for an enervating and occasionally challenging experience, and such is the present incarnation of the Michael Giles Mad Band, based around the former King Crimson drummer and including Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Geoffrey Richardson on guitars and violin and the modern composer Keith Tippett on piano. You could, if you were to extend a metaphor, probably guarantee that the results of this evening would prove at least interesting, as well as marginally less predictable than a studio re-jigging of some early 90s Balearic rhythms.

The band perform two half hour sets, the first of these a slow, near torturous exercise in spatiality, with twin percussionists Giles and associate AD Chivers utilising a range of both conventional and kitchen implements to build an atmospheric, edgy and rhythmically erratic piece which appeared to take a very long time to start up but quite suddenly and irrevocably did so, as Keith Tippett’s keyboard took up the percussive initiative while Daniel Pennie's guitar howled like some unnameable creature of the twilight. Satisfactory, but it had taken the band quite some time to arrive at their conclusion.

The second part of the show had, it seemed, a lot more variation and dynamism to offer what was an attentive and appreciative, and near capacity Chapel Arts audience; with the tempos remaining quick and both percussionists making the very most of their eclectic range of instrumentation, while Keith Tippett threw randomised jazz chords over his shoulder, Geoffrey Richardson provided a near theatrical central presence in spite of (or perhaps because of) the inaudibility of his ukelele, and Daniel Pennie's use of a bow and other implements (including an egg whisk) to complement his finger tap playing style had the quintet realising and discarding riffs and ideas in a seemingly endless stream of invention.

This was an evening of perhaps the very best improvised work that anyone with an interest in the form can expect to hear nowadays, at least on this side of the channel; alternately melodic, discordant, frenetic, destructive and ultimately cohesive, with the combined talents of some highly regarded if little known musicians providing a spontaneously rewarding listening experience for anyone equipped to appreciate it, which doesn't include everybody, but then not everyone likes Country & Western either. If you've any interest in improvised music you may already know of Michael Giles and if you don't, then the Mad Band are as good an introduction to the form as you can expect to hear.

JG  http://www.tastyfanzine.org.uk/gigs65jun10.htm