Snowpoet's Folkish Flurries Send Experimentation Into Deep Freeze At Bristol Jazz & Blues

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On the last day of Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, the snow fell. It didn't seem to deter the crowd, who buzzed around Colston Hall, listening to free gigs in the foyer and attending numerous ticketed shows in the venue spaces. Nor did it hinder the aptly named Snowpoet, who played an afternoon show in The Lantern hall, amid a festival lineup ranging from rocky Indo-Jazz clarinettist Arun Ghosh, to Clare Teal's mini big-band renditions of American standards. In this diverse context, it was hard to know what to expect from the young melodic storytellers, combining folk, pop and jazz, inspired by Björk, Sylvia Plath and John Cage.

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They began with a sound that would return over the set; soft, poppy, rock-jazz riffs, behind melodic vocal lines, with tenor sax in soft sync. As they diverged, Lauren Kinsella's more syllabic, sung phrases formed a nice melodic-rhythmic layer, subtly punctuated with Josh Arcoleo's delicate use of saxophone squeaks and tones. There was no sign that four of the six band members were later additions to a duo initially comprised of Kinsella and Chris Hyson. Today the sextet's multi-instrumentalism is an impressive asset; Hyson switched between bass, guitar and piano, Arcoleo between sax, bass and backing vocals, and Matt Robinson from piano to keyboard and electronics. Robinson's piano solos were precise and full of intention, mirrored in a carefulness and minimalism that encompassed the set. While the musicians wove a range of genres and poetry, textures and narrative, and evoked mystery and darkness, they were tight and neat, and 'clean'-feeling. At times, more unexpected harmonic and rhythmic changes spiced up the energy, along with use of electronics, moments of improvisation and part-spoken, poetic vocals. An almost a cappella version of Gillian Welch's 'Dear Someone' stood out, with Kinsella's lone voice morphing eerily and captivatingly into harmony via clever use of vocoder. But this group could stray further from the edges of safety, into the realms of risk to embrace the experimentalism and hints of franticness that were only occasionally touched.

– Celeste Cantor-Stephens
– Photos by Tim Dickeson

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