Match&Fuse Fest gets physical at Vortex and Café OTO

A globe-trotting celebration of all things improvised and alternative dreamt up by members of funky experimental jazz-prog band WorldService Project, Match&Fuse Festival ended its three-night run in suitably explosive style on Saturday night, with a total of nine bands playing alternating sets at east London venues Café OTO and the Vortex. After appearances from the likes of Shabaka Hutchings and James Allsopp on Thursday and Friday, it was down to young Norwegian improvisors Wolfram Trio to kick-start the finale. Alto player Halvor Meling hurled himself straight into the action, letting fly with scrambling lines and altissimo wails, as drummer Jan Martin Gismervik carved into his high-hat, leaving Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson’s bass to provide some warmth amidst the frostbitten sonic tundra.

From there, shifts in colour and intensity, twisted bass harmonics, broken swing and passages of nordic melancholy held the audience transfixed. There were new sounds too. Over the patter of Gismervik’s fingertips on the snare, Dietrichson used the heel of his bow to create trembling harmonics, before grabbing a cloth from behind the fingerboard and sliding it down the strings to make them shiver and scream. He broke his bridge in the process, to wild applause, and left Gismervik and an exhausted looking Meling to wrap things up.

Over at Café OTO the dream start continued with a performance from the Lana Trio and special guest John Butcher. Sparser and more brooding, their improvised set featured rasping drones from trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø and some superb contributions from Butcher that sounded uncannily like birdsong. But then the quality took a dip. Prog-outfit Twinscapes and Edinburgh-based trio Free Nelson Mandoom Jazz (no joke) favoured volume over interest and variety, an approach that wore thin pretty quickly. Jazz troupe Lunch Money were better, splashing dancey beats through puddles of electronics, and an improvised set from Monkey Plot and reeds-player Frode Gjerstad brought some nice moments, though the development felt a little forced rather than spontaneous and organic.

But when The Physics House Band (pictured top), an experimental trio featuring Adam Hutchison on bass, Sam Organ on guitar and an ear-defender clad Dave Morgan on drums, took the stage we were back in business. A series of thunderous hooks and apocalyptic drum fills left a room full of headbangers battered, bruised and elated. Ears ringing, I made it back to Café OTO for The Eirik Tofte Match&Fuse Orchestra, an improvising ensemble featuring performers from across the festival.

Their midnight march between venues was a highlight, largely because of the look of bewilderment and abject horror on the faces of passersby and the hilarity that ensued when the band – plus audience, plus enterprising Gillett Square alcoholics, some of whom had been swept up in the proceedings – had to force their way back into the Vortex despite the best efforts of the bouncer. It was an act that the last group of the night, the double trombone-wielding quintet Snorkel, couldn’t quite follow. A chaotic centre piece in a brilliant finale, it put a smile on my face that even a 3am night bus and the drunken antics of a man in immodestly low-slung sweatpants failed to extinguish, and it’s hard to think of a bigger compliment than that.

– Thomas Rees

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