En Bas Quartet rewrite jazz rules down at London Review Bookshop



Mezz Mezzrow might’ve still cocked a snook at the army of tiny black ants hanging off those telephone wires (‘written music is like handcuffs’), but this scholarly subterranean scene – one in the LUME season – was pumping tired classical tropes with dollops of intrepidly engaging impishness, cutting through all that staid totalitarian chafe like a harvester at ripe time.

Seth Bennett steered his new string ensemble through movements founded on the rocks of old Northumberland traditional, ‘Sair Fyeld Hinny’, punctuating the quixotic anchoring with non-idiomatic breaches, barn-dancing like a plethora of Barry Guys riding a frothy flume. Melodic tempters got brokered along ambitious, chicaning, engaging pathways, riddling the folk-infused compositions of Bartók and Ives with the out-there-somewhere hops of jazz jousters ranging from Billy Bang to Jessica Pavone. While Benedict Taylor’s viola rustled up some serious Hasidic vibes, laying bare the influence John Zorn’s cross-fertilising Masada project, En Bas’ overriding air was of a feverish Englishness ensnared, the ambience of a smoggy Sherlock Holmes nerve-gripper, wan and waxed after a session at the poppy pipe.

Bucolic bliss among the tomb of tomes, all those tiny black ants hastily sent skidding down the empty pages.

– Spencer Grady