The 21st century jazz group keeps the core principles of jazz instrumentation there from the beginning. Saxophone, piano, guitar, bass, drums – Sidney Bechet’s band had them, and so does Finn Peters’.
It’s the added bells and whistles that make the difference – gamelan bells and bird whistles, that is – plus the audience handclaps, the expletive-ridden raging of teenage delinquents on death row, and the filtered, reshaped sounds of saxophone, flute and more, sampled live and electronically tweaked.
The crucial sixth instrument that produces all these is the laptop.
The band opened in forceful mood with Atlas, calmed down with Fax (inspired by the blooping, beeping tune of the fax machine), turned prehistoric with Pterodactyl and, in the second half, paid tribute to the Nightingale (the flute melodies drawn from Peters’ field research into the bird’s song). Somehow they fitted in all the other pieces from the latest CD Butterflies, plus Red Fish from the first album Su-Ling.
Just before the interval we had been rocked back in our seats by Peters’ performance of Grab It!, a piece by Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis for tenor saxophone and the shouting of the death row teenagers. It was overlong, but still an extraordinary example of technological creativity meeting instrumental facility.
The band was great – David Okumu on guitar, Tom Skinner on drums and Matthew Lee King on laptop, plus Jasper Hoiby in for Tom Herbert on bass and Tom Cawley in for Nick Ramm on piano – the sound was acceptable considering the complex mix of instruments, but the stage lighting at the venue is dire.