Elaine Mitchener Delivers Dramas Of Defiance At St. George's, London

This Hawksmoor church in Bloomsbury is by no means familiar to the majority of jazz audiences. It is not on the recognised circuit of venues. But that in itself is telling. Although she is a known quantity in the world of improvisation, Elaine Mitchener resolutely resists easy categorisation. St. George's should suit her constituency; whoever does not subscribe to a rigid separation of music, dance, mime and theatre.

She is a vocal and movement artist, and this premiere of 'Sweet Tooth' is a cross-disciplinary piece in which sound and vision, and, perhaps more importantly, the specific layout of the space, are all used in the course of a quite gripping performance. A meditation on slavery in Jamaica, and the closely related sugar industry, a hugely lucrative business and culturally transformative phenomenon in the UK, the piece is as thought-provoking as it imaginative, effectively conveying the dehumanisation of bondage by way of chilling detail as well as compelling stagecraft. In real terms, that means that the spreading of sound sources around the pews and altar – Jason Yarde's baritone saxophone, Sylvia Hallett's violin and Mark Sanders drums – creates a disturbing sense of oppressive forces enclosing the listener, as if the rumble of the horn, buzz saw of strings and skitter of percussion mark out borders not to be crossed.

Mitchener IMG 2450

When all the performers move slowly around the audience with birches that might well represent cane stalks that they then whip crisply in the air, it feels as if runaways are being apprehended and punished before they can clear the limits of the plantation. The sense of discomfort around me is palpable. As is the moment when Mitchener reads a list of slave names from an 1813 inventory without accompanying music with such mechanical precision that it seems the roll-call is endless, the descriptions of the human cargo blurring into anonymity only to be punctuated by a terribly poignant entry such as 'Delia, sickly'. Mitchener's entirely visceral gestural range, directed by Dam Van Huynh, which involves pulling her hair, lashing her buttocks and twisting and contorting her mouth to evoke the heinous 'scold's bridle' used to torture slaves, provides an equally potent counterpoint to this passage of calm, controlled menace.

Divided into six movements that draw on far-reaching historical material such as kumina, the Congo-derived religious song and the 'scramble', the unseemly jostling for prize specimens at auction time, 'Sweet Tooth' is an uncompromisingly graphic treatment of a traumatic subject. Mitchener's considerable theatrical and vocal ability lead her to draw out nuance in a single broken phrase, the juddering clicks well enhanced by the braying overtones of Yarde's soprano and the wavering of Hallett's accordion, a kind of morbid Scottish reel amid the wasteland of blighted lives.

From the moment she runs at full pelt, screaming into view, Mitchener adopts an artistically brave stance that has notable historical precedents. It was in Abbey Lincoln's hugely controversial evocation of plantation rape in America on Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite and also in the revolutionary poetry of Aimé Césaire's Cahier D'Un Retour Au Pays Natal, where the author raised 'le grand cri negre' against the deaf ears of those who refused to hear the ongoing echoes of post-slavery psychosis in Martinique. 'Sweet Tooth' is a vital black British addition to those seminal creative statements of resistance and defiance from the African Diaspora.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Robert Piwko

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Up From The Vaults: Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet Albums Back on Vinyl

Up From The Vaults: Don Rendell/Ian Carr…

Long regarded as among the most notable and, in recent...

Read More.....
Georgia Mancio's triumphant triple bill at second Pizza Hang

Georgia Mancio's triumphant triple bill …

It's been something of an annus mirabilis for the vocalist...

Read More.....
Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, The Necks and Ambrose Akinmusire make moves at Mondriaan Jazz Fest

Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, The …

The second edition of the Mondriaan Jazz Festival takes place...

Read More.....
Black Top boogie on down for Sardinian Extravaganza

Black Top boogie on down for Sardinian E…

This exciting initiative taken by London-based vocalist Filomena Campus is...

Read More.....
UK Seers Foresee Future Homegrown Visions At Jazz In The Round's Emergence Fest

UK Seers Foresee Future Homegrown Vision…

Jazz In The Round promoters Chris Phillips and Jez Nelson...

Read More.....
Julian Siegel and Renegade Brass light up Limerick Jazz Festival

Julian Siegel and Renegade Brass light u…

This year's festival was perhaps short on surprises, compared to...

Read More.....
Dayes Of Future Past As Yussef Dazzles At Brighton's Haunt

Dayes Of Future Past As Yussef Dazzles A…

The bouncer outside is busy checking ID and handing out...

Read More.....
Gobbling Gourmet On Finnish Baltic Sea Jazz Cruise

Gobbling Gourmet On Finnish Baltic Sea J…

Most jazz cruises skim through moist Caribbean parts, proffering smooth...

Read More.....
New York group SUM premiere ‘Sinking Sand’ video

New York group SUM premiere ‘Sinking San…

Fast emerging New York group SUM bring together jazz, soul...

Read More.....
Claire Martin and Liane Carroll top JBGB autumn jazz line-up

Claire Martin and Liane Carroll top JBGB…

There's a busy jazz line-up at the Other Palace, PizzaExpress...

Read More.....
Guadeloupean Drummer Dolmen Goes For Gwoka At French Institute

Guadeloupean Drummer Dolmen Goes For Gwo…

The World Is Moving is an apt title for this...

Read More.....
Riot Jazz Brass Band for ISM Trust's The Empowered Musician Conference

Riot Jazz Brass Band for ISM Trust's The…

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) Trust are holding a...

Read More.....
Bishop Bones Up In Glasgow

Bishop Bones Up In Glasgow

Chicagoan trombonist Jeb Bishop (Vandermark 5/Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet/Globe Unity...

Read More.....
Szun Waves share new video for ‘Moon Runes’

Szun Waves share new video for ‘Moon Run…

Jazztronica trio Szun Waves have just released the video for...

Read More.....
Flying Machines Video Exclusive – ‘New Life’

Flying Machines Video Exclusive – ‘New L…

Guitarist Alex Munk returns in emphatic style with his hard-driving...

Read More.....
Elliot Galvin, Cherise Adams-Burnett and Fini Bearman for Elgar Room jazz fest nights

Elliot Galvin, Cherise Adams-Burnett and…

The Royal Albert Hall's venue-within-a-venue, The Elgar Room, has a...

Read More.....
EFG renews title sponsorship, Jazz Voice stars, Rymden and Jamie Baum for EFG London Jazz Fest

EFG renews title sponsorship, Jazz Voice…

The full programme for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival...

Read More.....
Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell Duo and Sheila Maurice-Grey vibe up The Vortex

Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell Duo and Sheila M…

There's a plethora of essential jazz nights lined up at...

Read More.....
Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2018 Nominees Announced

Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2018 Nominees …

The nominations have been announced for this year's Parliamentary Jazz...

Read More.....
Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet Video Premiere and Jazz Cafe Debut

Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet Video Premiere…

Polish bassist Wojtek Mazolewski brings his acclaimed Quintet to the...

Read More.....
Nils Petter Molvaer lights up Ystad Festival with magical dawn chorus

Nils Petter Molvaer lights up Ystad Fest…

For this year's Ystad jazz festival the spotlight was on...

Read More.....
Now Vs Now, Elephant9 and Geir Sundstøl shine at Punkt

Now Vs Now, Elephant9 and Geir Sundstøl …

As our world edges further into turmoil, the remote idyll...

Read More.....
Ray Carless wows with Windrush jazz celebration at The Vortex

Ray Carless wows with Windrush jazz cele…

The Windrush Scandal has been one of the biggest stories...

Read More.....
Shabaka Shakes Sons Loose At Saalfelden

Shabaka Shakes Sons Loose At Saalfelden

  Though Jazzfestival Saalfelden might not nestle between the likes of...

Read More.....
First Ever Jazz Survey Across The South Of England

First Ever Jazz Survey Across The South …

Following the announcement of the Arts Council England funding award...

Read More.....
Randy Weston 06/04/26 – 01/09/18

Randy Weston 06/04/26 – 01/09/18

Like several prominent African-American jazz artists, pianist Randy Weston, who...

Read More.....
Robert Mitchell Epiphany 3 for EP and tour

Robert Mitchell Epiphany 3 for EP and to…

Pianist Robert Mitchell releases a new five-track EP, Epiphany, on...

Read More.....
Hedvig Mollestad, Jo Berger Myhre and General Post Office shake up Oslo Jazz Festival

Hedvig Mollestad, Jo Berger Myhre and Ge…

When Oslo Jazz Festival was founded, back in 1986, it...

Read More.....
Roy Hargrove, Vijay Iyer and Paolo Fresu fire up Umbria Jazz 2018

Roy Hargrove, Vijay Iyer and Paolo Fresu…

This year was the 45th anniversary of Umbria Jazz and...

Read More.....
Cuong Vu’s Change In The Air with Bill Frisell – Video Preview

Cuong Vu’s Change In The Air with Bill F…

The September issue of Jazzwise is out now with an...

Read More.....
Birchall/Cheetham/Webster/Willberg Visit Vortex

Birchall/Cheetham/Webster/Willberg Visit…

Expect a bagful of bedlam when the free-wheeling Manchester/London-based quartet...

Read More.....
Sue Richardson lines up for inaugural Splash Point Jazz Fest

Sue Richardson lines up for inaugural Sp…

The first Splash Point Jazz Festival will take place in...

Read More.....
Jazz FM sold to Bauer Media Group

Jazz FM sold to Bauer Media Group

Jazz FM, which is broadcast nationally on DAB and recently...

Read More.....
Musson, Kjær and Marshall set for Iklectik date this weekend

Musson, Kjær and Marshall set for Iklect…

Three of the key figures on London's improv scene –...

Read More.....
Say A Little Prayer: Aretha Franklin 25/03/42 – 16/08/18

Say A Little Prayer: Aretha Franklin 25/…

  As far as monikers go, 'Lady Soul' may well have...

Read More.....
'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th anniversary

'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th …

Photographer Art Kane's legendary jazz photograph 'Harlem – 1958', commonly...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

@gefbot Albert Ayler?
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
@htub03 @melvingibbs @flamcity @brmuse @MMMusicagency Meant only evocative things – Last Exit, David Torn's Sun of… https://t.co/ly6SBp3UHE
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA